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The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson
oil on panel
12 x 9 ½ in. (30.5 x 24.2 cm.), with additions making the panel up from an arched top of 7/8 in. (2.3 cm.) to the vertical edges and 1 1/8 in. (2.8 cm.) to the upper edge
G.C. Blanken, The Hague; (†), Frans Bosboom, The Hague, 4 June 1800, lot 125 (33 florins to Spruyt).
Bicker & Wijkersloot; Phillippus van der Schley, et al., Amsterdam, 19 July 1809, lot 35 (1,625 florins to T. Spaan on behalf of the following),
Pieter de Smeth van Alphen (1753-1809), Amsterdam; his sale (†), Philippus van der Schley, Amsterdam, 1 August 1810 (=1st day), lot 62 (1,320 florins to Jeronimo de Vries on behalf of the following),
Lucretia Johanna van Winter (1785-1845), Amsterdam, whose collection was merged into the Six van Hillegom-van Winter collection upon her marriage in 1822 to Hendrik Six van Hillegom (1790-1847), and by descent to their sons,
Jan Pieter Six van Hillegom (1824-1899) and Pieter Hendrik Six van Vromade (1827-1905), and by descent; Frederik Muller & Cie., Amsterdam, 16 October 1928, lot 28 (36,000 florins to the following),
Anton Jurgens (1867-1945), London and Nijmegen.
Acquired shortly afterwards by Charles Peto Bennett (1856-1940) (m. Kristine Elisabeth ‘Kiss’ Gudde), and by descent to his son,
Alfred Edwin Peto Bennett (1905-1996), and by descent to the present owners.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French painters, London, 1829, I, p. 82, no. 83.
G. Lafenestre & E. Richtenberger, La peinture en Europe: La Hollande, Paris, c. 1900, p. 327.
Catalogue des reproductions inaltérables au charbon faites d'après les peintures composant la Galerie 'Six' à Amsterdam, Paris, 1902, p. 5.
A. von Wurzbach, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexicon, Vienna, 1910, II, p. 165.
C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1928, X, pp. 43-44, no. 68
D. Bax, Hollandse en Vlaamse schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika, Amsterdam, 1952, p. 53.
E. Plietzsch, Holländische und Flämische Maler des XVII. Jarhundert, Leipzig, 1960, p. 52.
J. Welu, Vermeer and Cartography, Ph.D. dissertation, 1975, p. 26, note 9.
O. Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) the Elder, Doornspijk, 1981, I, pp. 17 and 59-60, fig. 65; II, pp. 31-32, no. 28, pl. 28.
R. Priem, ‘The “Most Excellent Collection” of Lucretia Johanna van Winter: The Years 1809-22, with a Catalogue of the Works Purchased’ and ‘Catalogue of Old Master Paintings Acquired by Lucretia Johanna van Winter, 1809-22’, Simiolus: kunsthistorisch tijdschrift, XXV, nos. 2-3, 1997, pp. 133-134; and Appendix II, p. 204, no. 20, illustrated.
Q. Buvelot, et al., Frans van Mieris 1635-1681, exhibition catalogue, The Hague, 2005, p. 48, fig. 2.
L. Meerman, 'An unwritten chapter of Dutch collecting history: the painting collection of Pieter de Smeth van Alphen (1753-1809)', Simiolus: kunsthistorisch tijdschrift, XL, no. 1, 2018, p. 74, no. 62, illustrated.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Schilderijen en familieportretten van de heeren Jhr. P.H. Six van Vromade, Jhr. Dr. J. Six en Jhr. W. Six, 1900, no. 79.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450-1900, 4 January-9 March 1929, no. 196.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

This beautifully preserved painting has only recently reemerged from an English private collection, where it remained untraced for the better part of a century. Its reappearance provides striking confirmation of the glowing assessments of its nineteenth-century admirers, including the great English art historian John Smith, who knew the painting from the Six van Winter collection and proclaimed it: ‘unusually rich, and brilliant in colour’ (op. cit.). In similar vein, the anonymous cataloguer of the 1809 sale deemed it: ‘een der beste van dezen voortreffelijken Meester gehouden worden’ (‘one of the best by this exquisite master’).
An attractive young woman in a blue skirt and intricately patterned pale yellow bodice with a mouche, or beauty patch, on her forehead sits before an octagonal wooden table with a songbook in her hand. A white earthenware jug and glass flute with the remains of red wine rest atop the table. Behind, a smiling man with long brown hair and wispy moustache dressed in a brown cloak and feathered hat inclines his body forward as he rests a violin atop the table with one hand and gestures his bow with the other. The scene is staged before a plaster wall with an engraved map and arched doorway.
Such minutely rendered, intimately scaled scenes of everyday life proved enduringly popular among sophisticated collectors in the second half of the seventeenth century. To purloin the words of one commentator: ‘this was an art that represented unexceptional events in an uncommonly imaginative way, subtly balancing the observed fact and the creative idea’ (P.C. Sutton, ‘Masters of Dutch Genre Painting’, in Masters of Seventeenth Century Dutch Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Berlin and London, 1984, p. XIV). This was especially true in Leiden, a university town where a painstakingly refined technique known as fijnschilderen (‘fine painting’) became the calling card for many of its painters. While its earliest exponent was Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerrit Dou, by the end of the 1650s the fleshy figures and minute brushwork of his precociously talented student, Frans van Mieris – whom Dou himself dubbed ‘the prince of his pupils’ – epitomised the genre. So prized were van Mieris’ works and so famous had the artist become that he not only had the ear (and pocketbook) of local collectors like the famous physician François de la Boe Sylvius (1614-1673) but foreign collectors as well: Archduke Leopold Wilhelm unsuccessfully tried to lure the artist to Vienna with promises of a substantial allowance, while Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, paid van Mieris a studio visit in 1669 and subsequently acquired five of his paintings.
In his 1981 catalogue raisonné, Otto Naumann proposed a date of circa 1657-1660 for the Music Lesson, noting that the couple’s features were almost assuredly based on those of van Mieris and his wife, Cunera van der Cock, whom he had married in 1657 (op. cit., I, p. 60). Having recently had the opportunity to study the painting at firsthand, Naumann now supports a date closer to 1660 (private correspondence, 25 April 2021). Indeed, the original arched panel is nearly identical in size to the artist’s Teasing the pet, which measures 27.7 x 19.9 cm., is dated 1660 and likewise includes the artist and his wife as protagonists (fig. 1; The Hague, Mauritshuis). By depicting his own portrait in these paintings, van Mieris presented his patrons not only with specimens of his work but images of the famed artist who painted them. Nor was the clever allusion lost on his contemporaries. In 1717 Coenraad Baron Droste, the earliest recorded owner of Teasing the pet, rhetorically asked: ‘Who else could better furnish his pictures with turkish carpet, variegated and velvet clothes, than the elder Mieris, who here represents himself, playing with a puppy on his wife’s lap?’ (translated in O. Naumann, op. cit., II, p. 41).
Scholars have traditionally regarded van Mieris’ Oyster meal of 1661 (fig. 2; The Hague, Mauritshuis) as the pendant to Teasing the pet because of their complementary subjects (see, for example, Naumann, op. cit., I, pp. 60-61, 110). When viewed together, Teasing the pet might be regarded as an offer of seduction refused, while the Oyster meal could be interpreted as a proposal accepted (see O. Naumann in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, Berlin and London, 1984, no. 75, p. 258). However, the Oyster meal was painted both a year after Teasing the pet and, at 20.8 cm. wide, it is nearly 1 cm. wider than the earlier painting. In its original arched format, the present painting is not only closer in scale to Teasing the pet but its composition, particularly the disposition of the figures, would appear to make a more successful pendant. Whether or not van Mieris initially conceived these two paintings as pendants, what is clear is that around 1660 the artist must have acquired from a panel maker a number of nearly identical panels with arched tops.
Like the Oyster meal, the theme of the Music lesson – and by extension music-making more generally – carried with it connotations of intimate affections between the participants. In the years immediately following the creation of van Mieris’ painting, the subject would be treated by a variety of painters who specialised in high-life genre paintings, among them Caspar Netscher, Gerard ter Borch and Jan Steen. Van Mieris himself would return to the subject in a painting of 1672 (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). Instruction in music and dance was a standard feature of an upper-class education in the seventeenth century. That the figures in van Mieris’ painting belong to this segment of society is indicated not only by their engagement in music-making but through painted details, including the quality of their costly clothing and, notably, the woman’s amply proportioned and highly visible mouche.
A few years before van Mieris set brush to panel, the English physician and natural philosopher John Bulwer (1606-1656) described how women took to such beauty patches in order: ‘to set off their beauty, such as Venus had’. He continued – hardly able to suppress his scorn – by noting that: ‘it is well if one patch will serve to make their faces remarkable, for some fill their visages full of them, varied into all manner of shapes’ (Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transformd, or the Artificial Changeling, London, 1653, p. 167). The placement and shape carried further significance. A round or heart-shaped patch placed on the temple was perceived as more serious than one near the lip, which was known as a coquette and was viewed as flirtatious. The young woman has stopped short of donning a coquette, but the ‘harmony’ of her relationship with her erstwhile instructor nevertheless skews in a carnal direction, a fact that is conveyed not only by the jug and nearly empty wine glass but by the man’s bow, which suggestively inclines toward the woman’s womb.
The map that features in the painting’s background, identified ‘PARYS’ on the painted addition, further underscores the painting’s amorous narrative. In the first quarter of the seventeenth century, a number of Dutch genre painters included maps in the backgrounds of their compositions. Generally, these sheets are too summarily indicated to allow for positive identification of their source material. They instead appear to function chiefly as decoration. By the second half of the seventeenth century, however, a younger generation of artists, among them Nicolaes Maes (1655), Johannes Vermeer (circa 1657; fig. 3), Michiel van Musscher (1666), Edwaert Collier (circa 1667), Jacob Ochtervelt (1669), began to render their maps in such vivid detail that they can be identified.
Van Mieris’ Music lesson is one of the earliest paintings by a Leiden artist to feature an identifiable map on the back wall – Matthäus Merian the Elder’s Plan of Paris, which was first published in 1615 (fig. 4). The choice to include a map of Paris was an exceptional one for a Dutch painter in the period. In an attempt to convey regional/national pride or worldliness, these artists almost invariably selected maps of Holland, the Seventeen Provinces, Europe or the world (see J. Welu, ‘Vermeer: His Cartographic Sources’, The Art Bulletin, LVII, 1975, pp. 539-541). What, then, did van Mieris intend to signal by including a map of Paris?
In the course of the seventeenth century, Paris had developed a reputation as a place of libertine morals, one that was encouraged and disseminated through contemporary French literature. In his 1715 travel guide Le Voyageur fidèle, où le Guide de étrangers dans la ville de Paris qui enseigne tout ce quil y a de curieux à voir…et comment y trouver tout ce quon souhaite, tant pour les besoins de la vie, que pour autres choses (The Faithful Voyager, or a Guide for Foreigners that Explains Places of Interest in the City…and also How to Find Everything You Want There, the Necessities of Life, as Well as Other Things), the otherwise unknown Louis Liger made clear that in Paris, and particularly the district known as the Marais, the visitor found not only life’s necessities but, rather euphemistically, ‘the other things that you want’ as well. By Leger’s time, Paris’ status as the ‘City of Love’ (and lovers) had already been established as a literary trope for some decades. In Pierre Corneille’s La Place royale (printed 1637), Phylis, one of the play’s main characters, claimed to have more than 2,000 suitors and, more to the point, pronounced fidelity a virtue with no place in the modern world. Lovers’ Parisian trysts likewise form the principal plot lines of works like Antoine d’Ouville’s La Dame suivante (A Ladys Companion; 1645), Jean Simonin’s LIntrigue des carosses à cinq sous [The Five-Penny Carriages Intrigue; 1663], Noël de Hauteroche’s La Dame invisible (The Invisible Lady; 1684) and, perhaps most notably, Théophile de Viau’s Le Parnasse satyrique (1622), which included a sonnet celebrating sodomy and earned its author a death sentence in absentia. The sordid nature of Théophile’s works proved enduringly popular. He was the most frequently republished author throughout the seventeenth century, with some five times as many new editions of his works appearing as those of the more classical poet François de Malherbe (for a fuller discussion of Paris in the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, see J. DeJean, ‘The Marais: “Paris” in the seventeenth century’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of Paris, A. Milne, ed., Cambridge, 2013, pp. 19-33; see, too, S. van Damme, ‘Libertine Paris’, in the same volume).
The map likewise provides important, and heretofore undocumented, evidence as to how and when the painting was altered to its current, rectangular format. While Otto Naumann believed: ‘the panel was expanded into a rectangle at a later date’ at the time of his catalogue raisonné (op. cit., I, pp. 59-60), his assessment at the time was based solely on old photographs. He now is of the opinion that the additions were executed by van Mieris himself. As noted above, the inscription ‘PARYS’ exists on the painted addition. What is more, the hand responsible for the addition apparently was not only able to identify the city depicted but also recognised van Mieris’ specific source, correctly adding the cartouche at lower left and the two coats-of-arms at upper left which likewise appear in Merian’s map. It strains credulity to think a later seventeenth- or eighteenth-century hand would have been able to accurately identify and complete Merian’s map, all-the-more when one considers that the map remained unidentified until James Welu first recognized it in 1977 (op. cit.).
Three further pieces of evidence provide more support for the suggestion that the addition is, in fact, van Mieris’ own. First, the artist is known to have substantially altered at least four other works during the course of painting by adding pieces to his panels. Much like the present painting, his Man with a pipe at a window from 1658 (Sibiu, Brukenthal Museum) and Old violinist of 1660 (Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection) were initially conceived with an arched top and were later enlarged by the artist to their current formats. Similarly, the artist expanded The doctors visit (1667; Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum) from its original rectangular panel to an arched one by adding pieces along the upper and left edges, while he enlarged The Death of Lucretia (1679; New York, The Leiden Collection) by adding a substantial strip along the lower edge (for further information about these panels, see Q. Buvelot and O. Naumann, ‘Format changes in paintings by Frans van Mieris the Elder’, The Burlington Magazine, CL, 2008, pp. 102-104). Second, an early copy of the present painting, already rectangular in format and now in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, may well be the work sold from the collection of Petronella de la Court on 21 October 1707 (see Naumann, op. cit., II, p. 31, no. 28a, fig. C 28a). If correct, the sale of the Glasgow copy provides a terminus ante quem for the enlargement of the present panel. Third, recent dendrochronological examination of the original, arched panel and the rectangular addition undertaken by Dr. Ian Tyers confirms that both are made of Baltic oak, with the addition datable to circa 1620/30, when it would have been available for use by van Mieris himself. A copy of Dr. Tyers’ report is available upon request.
A note on the provenance:
The Music Lesson was one of the last acquisitions made by the collector Pieter de Smedt, Baron of the Russian Empire, Lord of Alphen and Rietveld (1753-1809) in the year that he died. Made up predominantly of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, his collection was one of the most important in Amsterdam and his posthumous sale in 1810, in which, according to the catalogue: ‘almost every work may be called a masterpiece’, was a landmark auction described by R. Priem (op. cit.) as: ‘the acme of the Dutch art market in the first decade of the nineteenth century’.
One of organisers of the sale was Jeronimo de Vries, the first director of the Rijksmuseum who was also active as an advisor and agent. He brought the sale to the attention of a young woman who was just starting to collect – Lucretia Johanna van Winter(1785-1854). Lucretia was the daughter of the immensely wealthy Amsterdam merchant Pieter van Winter Nicolaas Simonsz (1745-1807), who owned one of the most important private collections ever formed in the Netherlands. It numbered around 180 paintings, including such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; and Paris, Louvre); Jan Steen’s Girl eating oysters (The Hague, Mauritshuis); and Vermeer’s Village street (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), which, after his death, were divided between Lucretia and her sister, Ana Louisa Agatha, also known as Annewies (1793-1877). Upon her inheritance, Lucretia began buying pictures in her own right.
The Smedt van Alphen sale was the first auction in which Lucretia revealed her ambition as a serious collector. Correspondence between her and de Vries reveals that she left bids on nine pictures, acquiring everything she set her sights on, with the notable exception of Rembrandt’s Shipbuilder and his wife (Royal Collection), which she underbid at 16,000 florins, after reducing her limit from 18,000. She got the van Mieris for 1,320 florins, along with seven other pictures for a combined total of 18,930 florins. These included Nicolaes Berchem’s A moor with a lady and parrot (Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Athenaeum); Jan van Huysum’s Flower bouquet (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter); Adriaen van Ostade’s Fishwife (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum); Jan Steen’s Village wedding (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen); and a Drinker by Willem van Mieris (Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal).
Lucretia went on to collect a total of 53 pictures in the years preceding her marriage in 1822, becoming one of the most important collectors of her day in Amsterdam and arguably the most distinguished female collector Holland has ever known. Her most important acquisition, Vermeer’s Milkmaid (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), which she acquired for a pittance in 1813, remains one of the signal masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age.
With her marriage in 1822 to Hendrick Six van Hillegom (1790-1847), her collection was added to that of her husband, more than doubling it in size. On their deaths (in 1845 and 1847, respectively), the collection was inherited by their two sons, Jan Pieter Six van Hillegom (1824-1899) and Pieter Hendrik Six van Vromade (1827-1905), who both continued to live in their parental home at 509-511 Heerengracht for a number of years. The house and collection then passed to the former’s son, Jan Six van Hillegom (1857-1926), and two years after his death, the Music lesson reappeared on the market at the famous 1928 Six sale in Amsterdam, which contained 56 paintings: ‘the largest and best part of the Six collection’ (op. cit., p. 190), including virtually all of the remaining items from the former collections of Pieter and Lucretia de Winter.
There, the painting was acquired by the businessman Anton Jurgens (1867-1945), the grandson of Antoon Jurgens (1805-1880), who in 1867 founded the Dutch butter company Antoon Jurgens United. In 1927 the younger Jurgens succeeded in merging the family business with three others to form Margarine Unie. Three years later Margarine Unie merged, in turn, with Lever Brothers, thereby forming Unilever. Jurgens was a discriminating, visionary collector whose taste for the Leiden fijnschilders – he also owned Gerrit Dou’s Old painter in his studio (sold Lempertz, Cologne, 12 May 2012, lot 1258 for €3,785,000) – was a generation or two ahead of his time.
We should like to thank Otto Naumann for his aid in the cataloguing of this lot.

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