Attributed to Gonzales Coques (Antwerp 1614/18-1684)
THE PIETER ANS OLGA DREESMANN COLLECTION OF DUTCH OLD MASTER PAINTINGS The superb collection of Dutch Old Master pictures formed by Pieter and Olga Dreesmann is a remarkable and real testimony to their love and passion for the Arts and the Dutch 'Golden Age' in particular. The sale of this outstanding private collection which includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Saenredam, Coorte, Van de Velde, Avercamp, Van der Ast and Ruysdael, is the most important of its kind to take place in recent years and will undoubtedly be remembered as a landmark event. As the son and grandson of great collectors himself -- Willem J.R. and Anton C. R. Dreesmann (whose collection was sold at Christie's in 2002) -- Pieter Dreesmann's interest in the Arts developed at a young age, first and foremost at his parent's home in Amsterdam. There, he was surrounded by and diverse collection of Dutch Old Master pictures, silver, glass but also Impressionist works and French furniture. Visits to Dutch museums and their fabled collections only further served as an inspiration to this inquisitive young collector. Pieter and Olga Dreesmann's shared pursuit of this splendid array of treasures occurred over many years, guided by their recognition of quality, rarity, importance and condition. Each acquisition was made after the most careful consideration, taking every aspect of the work and its history fully into account. Valuable advice was sought and given by museum directors and curators, dealers, historians and notably, other collectors. In the process, many new friendships were formed and old friendships deepened as their reputation as collectors became more firmly established. One particularly productive relationship that developed and which was to be of paramount importance, was with the London and Maastricht dealer, Robert Noortman. His own enthusiasm and expertise provided a stimulus which was to lie behind a number of the best of the Dreesmann's acquisitions. These exciting years of discovery and research have resulted in a remarkably balanced group of masterpieces exemplifying the best aspects of Dutch 17th Century painting. The sustained level of quality of the works, in all senses, is exceptional and, consequently many of them have featured in key exhibitions over recent years. Pieter and Olga Dreesmann's decision to part with this specific portion of their Collection has again been taken with characteristic thoughtfulness and planning. They will continue to be active collectors and are presently re-focusing their interests, inspired by a wider range of works of art from Antiquity to the 21st Century. They remain supporters of fundamental art research as founders of the Anton C.R. Dreesmann Fund, a dedicated research unit for Dutch 17th Century painting techniques at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. They also support philanthropic causes linked to the care of children with genetic disorders and special needs. A portion of the proceeds of this sale will go to these charitable causes. These exceptional works have filled an important space in the lives of Pieter and Olga Dreesmann -- just as they did for other owners before them. Now, their sale offers to both established and new collectors alike, a tempting opportunity to secure some of the most representative works by the most notable artists of the Dutch 'Golden Age'. That discerning eye which guided the Dreesmann's own decisions, should be an inspiration.
Attributed to Gonzales Coques (Antwerp 1614/18-1684)

Portrait of a man, full-length, handing a letter to a boy, in an interior

Attributed to Gonzales Coques (Antwerp 1614/18-1684)
Portrait of a man, full-length, handing a letter to a boy, in an interior
oil on panel
22 x 17 3/8 in. (55.9 x 44.2 cm.)
In an early seventeenth-century, Dutch, ebony, cassetta frame (supplied by Wiggins, ref. 11322).
with Arnold Seligmann, Rey & Co., Inc., New York, from whom acquired by
Jacques-Léon Stern (1882-1949), French statesman and minister, Park Avenue, New York; (+) Parke-Bernet, New York, 3-4 November 1950, lot 38, as 'Gerard Terborch', citing a certificate of 27 June 1941 by Wilhelm Valentiner, 'A very interesting work by Gerard Terborch...'
Anonymous sale [Mme X...]; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 13 June 1956, lot 30, as 'Attributed to Gerard ter Borch'.
Anonymous sale [Collection de Monsieur et Madame B.]; Piasa, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 13 June 1997, lot 34, as 'Attributed to Thomas de Keyser'.
with Emanuel Moatti, Paris, from whom acquired at The European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht, on 9 March 1998, by
Pieter and Olga Dreesmann (inventory no. B5).
E. Buijsen, Onder de Huid van Oude Meesters: zeventiende-eeuwse schilderijen onderzocht met infraroodreflectografie, Zwolle, 2001, pp. 10-11, no. 4, illustrated.
A.K. Wheelock, Jr., 'The artistic development of Gerard ter Borch', in A.K. Wheelock, Jr., ed., with A. McNeil Kettering, A. Wallert and M.E. Wieseman, Gerard ter Borch, New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 12-13, fig. 10.
K. van der Stighelen, Hoofd en bijzaak: Portretkunst in Vlaanderen van 1420 tot nu, Leuven and Zwolle, 2008, pp. 161 and 163, illustrated.
'"In-Finitum": Parfaitement inachevé', Point de Vue, LXIII, 9 September 2009, pp. 3 and 44-8, illustrated.
Venice, Palazzo Fortuny, In-Finitum: L'Infinito del non-finito, 6 June-15 November 2009, no. 89.

Brought to you by

Georgina Wilsenach
Georgina Wilsenach

Lot Essay

For the better part of the twentieth century this stylish portrait was believed to be by Gerard ter Borch. In 1941 no less an authority than the great museum builder and historian of Dutch and Flemish art, Wilhelm Valentiner, described it enthusiastically as 'a very interesting work' by the artist, giving students 'a good idea of the manner in which Terborch executed his paintings', showing both 'what an excellent draughtsman he was' and 'the fine brushwork and exquisite colour sense typical for this great artist' (loc. cit.). Indeed, the scale and composition of the picture--a small full-length portrait--the acuity with which the psychologies of the two sitters are captured, the sensitivity with which the mood of the moment is evoked and the consummate virtuosity of the still-life at centre right, are all characteristics which one can align with Ter Borch's oeuvre. The delicacy of handling and yet palpability of effect with which the objects on the draped table are rendered, as well as the worn velvet of the armchair, can be compared to the crisply painted silver standish, candlestick, pocketwatch and the velvet-upholstered footstool of Ter Borch's Curiosity of circa 1660 (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

More recently, however, other attributions have been suggested: to Thomas de Keyser in 1997, and subsequently to Gonzales Coques. Unlike the Dutchmen Ter Borch and De Keyser, the exotically-named Coques is a Flemish artist born in Antwerp, whose graceful society portraits, often painted on a small, miniature-like scale, earned him the nickname 'the Little Van Dyck'. An intellectually playful and well-informed artist, Coques would have been aware of developments underway in the northern Low Countries, in the art of contemporaries such as De Keyser, Ter Borch and also Gabriel Metsu. The conceit of the subject, showing an authoritative male figure handing a letter to a young page (perhaps his son), echoes De Keyser's celebrated Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and his clerk (London, National Gallery), while the composition of the chair, table and still-life at lower right, set against the dark background must be informed by a knowledge of Ter Borch's work. The still-life is a tour-de-force of pictorial virtuosity in Coques's oeuvre; the standish, ink well, silver bell, scissors, purse, papers and other items are rendered so convincingly as to seem conjured out of thin air, shimmering with highlights. These are the acoutrements of a man of learning, like those on the carpet-draped table in De Keyser's Huygens.

The picture provides a rare opportunity to study the creative process of mid-seventeenth-century northern painters, due to the fact that it is unfinished; apart from their heads, the bodies of the two sitters are left unpainted, leaving the underdrawing, with which the whole composition had been sketched out, visible to the naked eye in those areas. The effect is striking, and for the modern viewer it is tempting to speculate that this might have been done on purpose. The idea of the beauty of an unfinished work of art, arrested at a stage of development which displays the maker's talent, had held currency since at least the early-sixteenth century, when artists as varied as Michelangelo and Goltzius had toyed with the concept of the non-finito. Van Dyck's unfinished etched self-portrait, an early state of a print he would subsequently complete (fig. 1), had been distributed to artist friends in Antwerp who appreciated those very suspended qualities, and was published as a frontispiece to a widely circulated posthumous edition of Van Dyck's Iconographia. The sidewards glance of the sitter in the present portrait is a close echo of Van Dyck's innovative pose--perhaps more than an inadvertent one. Interestingly, both Coques and Ter Borch might have had contact with Van Dyck while he was completing the Iconographia. Coques is thought to have travelled to England at some stage between 1628 and 1640; while Ter Borch visited England in 1635-1636, working in the studio of his step-uncle Robert van Voerst, who was in fact one of the engravers working from Van Dyck's designs for the book (Wheelock, op. cit., pp. 6-7). The parallel is a striking one, although it is more likely that there was a practical reason for the artist's painting the heads and leaving the bodies inpainted from the neck down--perhaps in order to allow a studio assistant or a draperies specialist to add the clothing 'after the master had modelled the faces' (ibid.). Whatever the reason for the unfinished state and regardless of the attribution, the result is a rare example of the gradual development of a seventeenth-century cabinet picture of the highest quality; as Wheelock notes (echoing part of Valentiner's sentiment more than six decades earlier), the present picture 'reveals information about an artistic process that Ter Borch may have followed, particularly in his portraits' (ibid., p. 13.)

By the early 1940s the picture was in the collection of Jacques-Léon Stern, a notable figure in prewar high society Paris. The scion of a prominent family of Jewish bankers, Stern had married the Countess Mathilde Simone de Leusse and commanded one of the largest fortunes in France. A notable political career included sitting as député for the Basses-Alpes in the French Assemblée nationale between 1914 and 1919, and again between 1928 and 1936; serving as Undersecretary of State 1930-1931; Minister of the Merchant Marine in 1933; and Minister of the Colonies in 1936. The Sterns lived in a hôtel particulier in the Champs-Elysées until their emigration to the United States in 1940, where they settled in New York, on Park Avenue. The collection of pictures, furniture and other objects assembled by Jacques-Léon Stern, including the present work, was dispersed in an estate sale at Parke-Bernet in 1950.

More from Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale

View All
View All