Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (Harlingen 1608-1651 Amsterdam)
Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (Harlingen 1608-1651 Amsterdam)

Portrait of Abraham Velters (1603-1690), half-length, in a grey cloak and lace collar, wearing a hat

Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (Harlingen 1608-1651 Amsterdam)
Portrait of Abraham Velters (1603-1690), half-length, in a grey cloak and lace collar, wearing a hat
signed in monogram 'JAB.' ('JAB' linked, upper right)
oil on canvas
26¼ x 23½ in. (66.6 x 59.6 cm.)
By descent in the family of the sitter, Utrecht.
Mr. M. Crommelin, Utrecht, c. 1890-1905, and by inheritance to
Mr. C.A. Crommelin, The Hague, by 1926.
with Edward Speelman, London, 1958, from whom acquired by the father of the present owner.
E.W. Moes, Iconographia Batavica, Amsterdam, II, 1897, no. 8330.
K. Bauch, Jacob Adriaensz. Backer. Ein Rembrandtschüler aus Friesland, Berlin, 1926, pp. 17 and 91, no. 160, pl. 9, as 'Frühwerk'.
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandtschüler, I, London, 1983, pp. 200 and 257, no. 54, illustrated.
R.E.O. Ekkart, Dutch Portraits from the Seventeenth Century. Own collection., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1995, p. 51, note 5.
W. Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, I, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 3.
P.v.d. Brink, J.v.d. Veen, Jacob Backer, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle and Amsterdam, pp. 23, 41-2, 124 and 226-7, no. A65, fig. 23.
The Hague, Pulchri Studio, Tentoonstelling van Schilderijen van Oude Meesters, Winter 1890-1891, no. 2.

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Lot Essay

Jacob Adriaensz. Backer trained initially in Amsterdam, possibly under Jacob Pynas (1581-1631), before moving to Leeuwarden in 1626-1627 to study in the workshop of the history painter Lambert Jacobsz. (c. 1592-1637). He had settled back in Amsterdam by 1633 when he won an important
commission for the group portrait The Governesses of the Civic Orphanage of Amsterdam (Amsterdam, Amsterdams Historisch Museum). Backer became one of the most sought after
portraitists in Amsterdam in the 1630s and 1640s. Unlike his contemporary Govaert Flinck (1615-1660), with whom he had trained in Leeuwarden, Backer did not fall directly under the spell of Rembrandt, instead adopting a lighter, more spontaneous approach to portraiture that seems to have been inspired by Flemish artists such as Cornelis de Vos (1583/4-1651).

Backer's Portrait of Abraham Velters is one of the most stylish and expressive portraits in his oeuvre. Both Bauch and Sumowski considered it an early work, dating it to circa 1634, the former scholar comparing it to the oval Portrait of a boy, dated 1634, which shows the sitter wearing a similar grey cape (The Hague, Mauritshuis). Peter van den Brink dates it slightly later, circa 1639, and now, on the basis of new photographs, suggests it might be later still, circa 1640-1642. The sitter confronts the viewer front-on, from a slightly elevated position, and conveys an undeniable sense of self-assuredness, befitting of a man of Velters's position and influence, which was considerable. The fact that he has not removed his hat or his cape lends a sense of immediacy to the portrait and gives the strong impression that this is a man of action who has been captured in a moment of time.

Abraham Velters was born in Calais in 1603, the son of Reynier Velters (1567-1610). He became a highly successful merchant, with dealings in Spain and particularly in France where he served as the Dutch consul in Marseille. In 1635 he is mentioned in a maritime insurance transaction in Amsterdam, where he lived in a palatial townhouse on the Keizersgracht, no. 117. He married Helena de Haze (1621-1679) in 1644 and she bore him nine children, one of whom -- Alexander Velters (1656-1719) -- went on to become burgomaster of Amsterdam in 1707. Upon his death in 1690, Abraham left his heirs 750,000 guilders, a truly astronomical sum at the time, which elicited an
ironic comment from Constantijn Huygens the Younger, who on 15 November 1690 noted in his Journal: 'I went to visit Mrs. Hop....We talked for a long time and she told me that in Amsterdam the old Velters, Mr. Cruyningen's father-in-law, had passed away, and that he had left twenty-one tons of gold, having been cheap all his life.'

In addition to his commercial and familial accomplishments, Abraham Velters was a noted collector in the Amsterdam art market and is recorded by John Michael Montias as an important buyer at the Van Maerlen sale in 1637 (J.M. Montias, Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2002, pp. 194 and 202). His posthumous inventory of 1691 lists a collection of forty-four paintings including a Head of a Woman by Rembrandt, a portrait by Van Dyck and five pictures by Rubens (all now untraced).

Another portrait of Abraham Velters, but of modest quality, showing him in old age, appeared recently in a sale at Christie's, Amsterdam, 21 June 2011, lot 136; inscribed with the name of the sitter and his coat-of-arms, and dated 1672. That picture had also belonged to Mr. C.A. Crommelin, in The Hague, which would seem to suggest that both of these portraits might have descended directly from Velters into the Crommelin family. However, this has not been possible to establish with certainty. We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for confirming the attribution.

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