Jan Steen (Leiden 1626-1679)
Jan Steen (Leiden 1626-1679)

Prayer before a Meal

Jan Steen (Leiden 1626-1679)
Prayer before a Meal
signed 'JSteen' ('JS' linked, lower right)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 22 5/8 in. (46 x 57.5 cm.)
Harriet, Lady Wantage (1837-1920), wife of Robert James Lindsay, subsequently Loyd-Lindsay, 1st Lord Wantage, V.C., K.C.B. (1832-1901), Lockinge House, Berkshire.
A. von Keller; sale, Frankfurt-am-Main, 17 May 1904, lot 83 (according to Hotstede de Groot).
Sir George Donaldson (1845-1925), London.
André de Ridder, Cronberg (1868-1921); his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 2 June 1924, lot 70 (bought by Lugt).
Private collection, Switzerland, by 1942.
with Leonard Koetser, London, where acquired by the present owner in 1964.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, etc., London, 1908, p. 101, no. 383a, 'from the description it seems of very doubtful authenticity'.
W.V. Bode, The Collection of Pictures of the late Herr A. de Ridder in his Villa at Schönberg near Cronberg in the Taunus, Berlin, 1913, pp. 9-10, pl. 30.
A. Bredius, Jan Steen, Amsterdam, 1926, II, pp. 62-3, fig. 64, as 'a magnificent work'.
The Connoisseur, October 1963, vol. 154, p. xlii.
The Connoisseur, April 1964, vol. 155, p. lvi.
The Burlington Magazine, April 1964, vol. 106, p. 192, fig. 61.
L.D. Vries, Jan Steen 'de Kluchtschilder, PhD Dissertation, University of Groningen, 1977, pp. 36-7, no. 38.
K. Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen, Rotterdam, 1980, no. B-105, as a rejected work.
P.C. Sutton and M.H. Butler, 'The Life and Art of Jan Steen', Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, LXXVIII, Nos. 337/338, Winter 1982-Spring 1983, p. 31, under note 7.
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Meisterwerke holländischer Malerei des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts in Kunstmuseum, 23 June - 19 August 1945, no. 91.
London, Leonard Koetser, April-May 1964.

Lot Essay

Described by the great Dutch connoisseur Abraham Bredius as ‘a magnificent work’, this Prayer before a Meal is one of the least well known of Jan Steen’s interpretations of what was his most pious subject. At least four other treatments are known, all compositionally different, including those in the Leiden Collection (formerly Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 1012, lot 9, £5,641,250); the collection of the Duke of Rutland, Belvoir Castle; the John G. Johnson collection, Philadelphia; and the National Gallery, London – all of which are datable to the 1660s. The superlative quality of those versions (the first two in particular) gives an indication of the importance that Steen, himself a Catholic, attached to the subject. This picture, having remained out of the public eye in the same collection since 1964, was inexplicably rejected by Karel Braun in his 1980 monograph (op. cit.) and can only now be reconsidered properly in the context of these other versions. We are grateful to both Guido Jansen and Wouter Kloek for recently endorsing the attribution on the basis of photographs. Both, independently, propose a date in the late 1650s, making this possibly Steen’s earliest painting of the subject.

The didactic intent behind all these works was underlined in the Belvoir and Leiden pictures with the inclusion of inscriptions of verses from the Bible or the Lord’s Prayer, expounding the virtues of a simple, honest life, underpinned by humility and a love of God. The message is no less hard-hitting in this example despite the absence of any text. In a humble yet well-ordered interior, lit from the outside window, a mother is shown praying next to her infant daughter, the latter imitating the gesture of the former, whilst the son stands clasping his hands together gazing up towards the light in an act of devotion. The father is shown hunched at the table respectfully holding his cap, a key hanging on the wall behind him emblematic of his trustworthiness. His place in the composition is balanced on the right by the newest addition to the family – a baby shown asleep in a wicker crib, which is described in admirable detail in half-light falling from the open window. Steen has taken characteristic care throughout to describe the unadorned setting as a functioning domestic interior. Various culinary implements are shown on shelves, in an open cupboard or hanging on the wall, while the simple meal itself consisting of root vegetables, bread and cheese is meticulously rendered on the crisp white tablecloth which has recently been unfolded. This truthfulness serves to enhance the effect of restrained piety and of a family living on modest means with dignity within a sacred home.

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All