FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582⁄3-1666 HAARLEM)
FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582⁄3-1666 HAARLEM)
FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582⁄3-1666 HAARLEM)
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FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582⁄3-1666 HAARLEM)
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SOLD ON INSTRUCTION OF THE VISCOUNT COWDRAY AND HIS TRUSTEES
FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582/3-1666 HAARLEM)

Portrait of a gentleman of the de Wolff family, possibly Joost de Wolff (1576/7-?after 1652), half-length

Details
FRANS HALS (ANTWERP 1582/3-1666 HAARLEM)
Portrait of a gentleman of the de Wolff family, possibly Joost de Wolff (1576/7-?after 1652), half-length
signed with artist's monogram, dated and inscribed 'ÆTA SVÆ 6[...] / 1643 FH' (upper right)
oil on canvas
36 ¾ x 30 in. (93.4 x 76.2 cm.)
with the coat-of-arms of the de Wolff family (upper right)
Provenance
Sir Algernon Borthwick Bt., 1st Baron Glenesk (1830-1908).
Sir George Donaldson (1845-1925), London.
with Martin H. Colnaghi, London, by 1891.
Sir George Alexander Drummond (1829-1910), Montreal; (†) his sale, Christie's, London, 26 June 1919, lot 182, with the sitter erroneously identified as 'Joseph Coymans', where acquired for 25,500 gns. by Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, on behalf of,
Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray (1856-1927), by whom hung at 17 Carlton House Terrace, London, and by descent at Cowdray Park.
Literature
E.W. Moes, Frans Hals: Sa Vie et son Oeuvre, Brussels, 1909, p. 101, illustrated opposite p. 60, with the sitter erroneously identified as 'Johan van Loo'.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, III, London, 1910, pp. 53-4, no. 169, with the sitter erroneously identified as 'Joseph Coymans'.
'Royal Inauguration of the Art Gallery', The Montreal Daily Witness, 10 December 1912, p. 14.
'Montreal's Art Treasures', American Art News, XII, 20 December 1913, p. 2.
W. von Bode, ed., Frans Hals: sein Leben und seine Werke, II, Berlin, 1914, p. 61, no. 207, pl. 131.
W.R. Valentiner, Frans Hals: Des Meisters Gemälde (Klassiker der Kunst), 1st ed., Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921, p. 195; 2nd ed., 1923, p. 209.
F. Dülberg, Frans Hals: sein Leben und sein Werk, Stuttgart, 1930, p. 168.
S. Slive, Frans Hals, II, London and New York, 1974, pl. 227; III, p. 75, no. 145.
C. Grimm, L’opera completa di Frans Hals, Milan, 1974, pp. 103-4, no. 156.
C. Grimm, Frans Hals: Das Gesamtwerk, Stuttgart and Zurich, 1989, p. 280, no. 115, illustrated.
C. Grimm, Frans Hals: The Complete Work, New York, 1990, p. 286, no. 115, illustrated.
F. Russell, Pearsons and Pictures, London, 2011, n.p., fig. 21.
Exhibited
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Old Masters, deceased masters of the British School & English watercolours, 5 January-14 March 1891, no. 71, with the sitter erroneously identified as 'Johan van Loo' (lent by Martin H. Colnaghi).
Montreal, The Art Association of Montreal, Inaugural Loan Exhibition of Paintings, December 1912, no. 66 (lent by Lady Drummond).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Dutch pictures, 1450-1750, 1952-1953, no. 58 (lent by Viscount Cowdray).
Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery, Art Treasures Centenary: European Old Masters, 30 October-31 December 1957, no. 125, with the sitter erroneously identified as 'Joseph Coymans' (lent by Viscount Cowdray).
Montreal, The Montreal Museum, Canada Collects 1860-1960, 1962, no. 31 (lent by Viscount Cowdray).
Haarlem, The Frans Hals Museum, Frans Hals - Exhibition on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Municipal Museum at Haarlem, 16 June-30 September 1962, no. 51.

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Lot Essay

This remarkably lively masterpiece by Frans Hals testifies to the consummate abilities of an artist whose feats in portraiture were rivalled only by Rembrandt in the entirety of the Dutch seventeenth century. Out of public view for more than sixty years and in the same family’s possession for over a century, the painting belongs to a period when, in the words of Pieter Biesboer, ‘Hals was at the height of his career’ and receiving commissions from some of the wealthiest and most politically and socially connected members of Dutch society (‘The Burghers of Haarlem and their Portrait Painters’, Frans Hals, exhibition catalogue, Washington, London and Haarlem, 1989, p. 36).

THE SITTER

Over the past 150 years, various unsuccessful attempts have been made to identify the sitter in this painting. When exhibited in London in 1891, the man was identified as ‘Johann van Loo, Colonel of the Archers of St. George’ on account of perceived similarities with the seated man viewed from the front in an orange sash at lower left in Hals’s Officers and Sergeants of the St. Hadrian Civic Guard Company (1633; Slive, op. cit., no. 79) and the standing man second from left in the foreground of the artist’s Officers and Sergeants of the St. George Civic Guard Company (1639; ibid., no. 124), both in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ernst Wilhelm Moes (1909), Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1910) and Wilhelm von Bode and M.J. Binder (1914) all erroneously identified him as Joseph Coymans (1591-c. 1653), misinterpreting the coat-of-arms at upper right. Coymans did indeed sit for Hals the following year in a portrait today in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, though his coat-of-arms depict three black oxen’s heads on a gold field (fig. 1; Slive, op. cit., no. 160). In his standard catalogue raisonné on the artist, Seymour Slive – who evidently knew the painting only from images – misread the coat-of-arms as ‘two [sic!] [white?] wolves’ [foxes’?] heads on a red field’ and was unable to add anything further on the man’s identity (ibid., III, p. 75, no. 145). When studied in person, the animal heads on the coat-of-arms are clearly those of wolves, as Slive suspected. Thus, it stands to reason that the sitter’s surname was all but assuredly one or another derivation of ‘de Wolff’.

Recent research undertaken independently by Olivier Mertens (private communication, 31 January, 2 February and 6 February 2024) and Frans Grijzenhout of the University of Amsterdam (private communication, 1, 22 and 27 May 2024) in the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem sheds new light on the sitter’s possible identity. Olivier Mertens has pointed out that the coat-of-arms that features at upper right in the painting is Gules (red) with three wolf heads Argent (silver) and a crest (on top of the helmet) of a vol (two wings) Gules and Argent. This coat-of-arms is identical with one mentioned by the renowned heraldist J.B. Rietstap (Armorial Général, Amsterdam, 1875, p. 1158) as ‘de gu[eules] à trois têtes de loup d’arg[ent]’ for a branch of the de Wolff family in the Netherlands, though without reference to the crest.

For his part, Frans Grijzenhout has recently drawn attention to a highly comparable coat-of-arms appearing on the stone slab covering the tomb of Jan de Wolff (1542/3-1606), originally of Roeselare, a town about 35 kilometres south of Bruges, and his two wives. The slab, found along the north side of the east transept in Haarlem’s Grote Kerk, is known through a drawing by Pieter van Looy from 1880 (fig. 2). As is readily apparent, only two wolves’ heads appear in the coat-of-arms, the third presumably having been worn away over the centuries. Given the similarities between the coat-of-arms in Hals’s portrait and the gravestone of Jan de Wolff, the sitter can most probably be found among the men of this family. De Wolff had a son, Franchoys (1578/9 or 1580/1-1641), who died before Hals painted this portrait.

A Joos de Wolff (Wulff), who died in 1610, may have been Jan’s brother. Joos had at least three children, including a son, Franchoys (?-before 1648), and may also have been the father to Joost (1576/7-?after 1652). Franchoys, who married Cornelia Gerrits of Delden on 26 April 1622, was described as coming from Haarlem in marriage banns published on 10 April of that year. His having been born in Haarlem rather than Roeselare or Bruges like many of his putative kinsmen suggests a probable birthdate no earlier than the 1580s. This notion gains further support given that he only appears to have married in 1622 and suggests he may not yet have been at least 60 years of age at the time of Hals’s portrait.

Based on the above names, the sitter in Hals’s painting is here proposed to be Joost de Wolff (Wulff), a ‘linnenwever’ (‘cloth weaver’), who, like Jan de Wolff, was originally from Roeselare. De Wolff married one Catelina Dienaers, widow of Christiaen Corthals, from Eeklo on 13 July 1604 in the Grote Kerk, alternatively the Sint-Bavokerk (Noord-Hollands Archief, DTB Haarlem, inv. no. 47). The couple’s betrothal register on 27 June 1604 indicates that de Wolff was then resident on Grote Houtstraat, which Hals’s son Nicolaes would depict in a painting viewed from the Peuzelaarsteeg a half-century or so later (fig. 3). The couple had a son, Guillaem, who was baptized in the Grote Kerk on 8 May 1605 (Noord-Hollands Archief, DTB Haarlem, inv. no. 4).

In the 1628 and 1650 registers of the ‘verponding’ of Haarlem (a taxation based on the rental value of houses), de Wolff is mentioned as the owner – though not the inhabitant – of a house on Kleine Houtstraat. In both registers, the house was said to carry the relatively considerable rental value of sixty guilders, for which de Wolff was required to pay eight guilders in tax. According to the latter register, he was again required to pay these taxes in 1651 and 1652, though the information in the 1650 ‘verponding’ is not always entirely reliable.

While de Wolff’s birth and death dates have yet to be found, one crucial document suggests he may have been born between the second half of December 1576 and 1577. In an entry dated 12 December 1629 appearing in a modern transcription of the ‘fiches op de attestaties’, which provide information about ‘lidmaten’ (members) of the Dutch Reformed Church, de Wolff is described as aged 52 years. Though the final digit of the sitter’s age in Hals’s portrait is now illegible, de Wolff would have been around 65 or 66 years old at the time of sitting, which comports well with both the visual evidence and what can be read of the inscription. No further traces of de Wolff’s activities post-dating 1652 have been found in the archival records, suggesting he may have passed away sometime between 1652 and 1656. Burial records in Haarlem unfortunately do not survive for this period, a time in which de Wolff would also have been in his latter seventies.

THE PORTRAIT

If – as Shakespeare’s Polonius would have it – brevity is the soul of wit, Hals’s work stands as one of its most steadfast analogues in the visual arts. Through a limited number of unerring strokes of the brush, the artist succeeded in conjuring not only his sitters’ physical appearance but their character and personality, their vitality. Their freshness and spontaneity made Hals the most prized portraitist in Haarlem in the period. The writer, poet and Hals sitter Theodorus Schrevelius (1572-1649) hit upon this point when describing Hals’s portraits in his Harlemias (Haarlem, 1648, p. 383):

Nor can I let this pass in mute silence, Frans … excels almost everyone with the superb and uncommon manner of painting which is uniquely his. His paintings are imbued with such force and vitality that he seems to surpass nature herself with his brush. This is seen in all his portraits, so numerous as to pass belief, which are coloured in such a way that they seem to breathe and live.’

Schrevelius’s (somewhat hyperbolic) assertion that Hals’s portraits were ‘so numerous as to pass belief’ has a kernel of truth to it. The two decades before Schrevelius’s publication proved to be particularly propitious for the artist: more than half of Hals’s known commissioned portraits date from this period. Yet, despite this evident success, Hals may have been living in precarious financial circumstances, a point that would seem to be borne out by the artist’s peripatetic lifestyle. He is known to have lived in at least four different rented houses in the 1640s alone.

Hals portrayed de Wolff, then in his mid-sixties, with an extraordinarily lifelike quality, quite literally warts and all; two such blemishes made by three impish dashes of paint appear on his left cheek. Nor was any attempt made to minimise de Wolff’s most recognisable feature: his pronounced aquiline nose. His extravagant cartwheel ruff would have been slightly out-modish by the mid-1640s but nevertheless appropriate for a man of his generation. With his hands – one gloved and firmly holding its mate – that rest comfortably atop his amply-proportioned stomach and knowing eyes, de Wolff exudes a sense of nonchalance and effortless gravitas. Hals had employed a similar concept, albeit with more emphatically crossed arms, for his portrait of Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa (1586-1643) in The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth (1622; Slive, op. cit., no. 18, where described simply as ‘Portrait of a Man’; for the identification of the sitter as Massa, see B. Cornelis, ‘Portraiture into Art’, Frans Hals, exhibition catalogue, London and Amsterdam, 2023, pp. 125-6, fig. 94) and, closer to the present painting, his portrait of Pieter Jacobsz. Olycan (1572-1658) of circa 1639 in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota (fig. 4).

De Wolff had every reason to present himself with such dignified confidence. This was a man who, much like the artist who painted him, came of age in the right place at the right time. Haarlem’s economy in the first half of the seventeenth century was a vibrant one, fuelled in large part by the brewing and linen industries and entrepreneurial Flemish immigrants fleeing the devastation wrought upon the Southern Netherlands at the end of the last century (de Wolff and Hals among them). Only towards the end of the 1640s did increased competition following the recovery of traditional centres of linen production in the Southern Netherlands begin to take its toll, a downturn that would likewise affect the number of portrait commissions Hals would receive in the final decades of his career.

THE ARTIST AND HIS PATRONS

While many of Hals’s contemporaries drew their clientele from one or another of Haarlem’s disparate religious and professional communities, Hals was unique in his ability to successfully tap into the upper echelons of each group. Where Pieter Soutman (prominent Catholic families), Johannes Verspronck (Catholics and residents around his home on the Jansstraat), Pieter de Grebber (Catholic clergymen) and Jan de Bray (close acquaintances and Catholics) were favoured by specific, often Catholic, subsets of Haarlem society, Hals could count on such disparate patrons as the audaciously dressed brewer Claes Duyst van Voorhout (c. 1638; Slive, op. cit., no. 119), the rather more reservedly depicted Mennonite linen merchant Lucas de Clercq (c. 1635; ibid., no. 104), Catholic priests and Reformed ministers alike and leading intellectuals like René Descartes (before 1649; ibid., no. 175) and the aforementioned Schrevelius. To this group can be added men and women like the Amsterdam brewer Nicolaes Hasselaer and his wife Sara Wolphaerts van Diemen (c. 1630-3; ibid., nos. 86 and 87), who resided beyond Haarlem’s walls. What connected these disparate groups of people were their social and professional networks, and ones into which Joost de Wolff fits comfortably.

It comes as little surprise that the greatest number of Hals’s patrons were drawn from Haarlem’s two leading industries: brewers and those involved in cloth, namely linen, production and trade. One Haarlem brewing family – the Olycans – single-handedly accounted for no fewer than eighteen portrait commissions beginning in 1625, when Jacob Pietersz. Olycan (1596-1638) and his wife Aletta Hannemans (1606-1653) sat for the artist (Slive, op. cit., nos. 32 and 33). Identified members of the extended Olycan family represent roughly ten percent of Hals’s extant portraits and would remain influential on the artist throughout his career, with the brewer Cornelis Guldewagen (1599-1663), whose sister-in-law was Maria Pietersds. Olycan, sister of Jacob Pietersz., sitting for a late portrait by Hals around 1660 in the Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, IL (ibid., no. 212).

Few, if any, connections can be drawn between brewers and their socio-economic peers involved with linen and other cloths, who comprised the second most important group of Hals’s identified patrons. Despite their prodigious wealth, the cloth industry’s elite, many of them Mennonites, were excluded from Haarlem’s municipal government due to their faith, which was dominated instead by the brewing class. When Prince Maurits, for example, replaced the twenty-four members of the city council in 1618, twenty-one of the newly-made members were brewers (see Biesboer, op. cit., p. 23).

Among Hals’s known sitters, only the fabulously wealthy cloth merchant and banker Joseph Coymans – who, from all available evidence, was a central figure in Hals’s orbit – maintained any significant contact with the city’s brewing elite, no doubt largely due to his banking activities. In 1645, the year after Coymans sat for Hals, the Amsterdam bank he ran with his brothers, Balthazar and Joan, processed transactions amounting to 4,140,000 florins, more than any other Amsterdam bank that year (see Slive, op. cit., p. 82, under no. 160). Coymans and his wife, Dorothea Berck, sat for the artist in a pair of portraits in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, and Baltimore Museum of Art, respectively (1644; ibid., nos. 160 and 161). Hals would subsequently paint the portraits of at least three additional members of the Coymans family (Slive, ibid., nos. 166, 188 and 189). He would also portray Willem Croes (c. 1660; ibid., no. 213), a neighbour of Coymans’s on Haarlem’s Zijlstraat, in 1650 (another neighbour, Paulus van Beresteyn, had previously sat for Hals in the 1620s, see Slive, op. cit., no. 12).

Leaders of Haarlem’s cloth industry, de Wolff among them, instead exerted influence within their own community and, in at least one known instance, with the artist himself. The portraits of these sitters – including Willem van Heythuysen, of whom three images datable between circa 1625 and 1650 by Hals are known (figs. 5 and 6; ibid., nos. 31 and 123 as well as the painting sold Sotheby’s, London, 9 July 2008, lot 26); Pieter van den Broecke (fig. 7; c. 1633; ibid., no. 84) and Tieleman Roosterman (fig. 8; 1634; ibid., no. 93) – are among the most inventive, at times intimate, and successful in Hals’s oeuvre. The life-long bachelor Heythuysen (c. 1590-1650) had once been engaged to Roosterman’s younger sister, Alida. Similarly, Heythuysen lived on Oude Gracht near the silk merchant Gabriel Loreyn, who appears as first sergeant in Hals’s afore-mentioned Officers and Sergeants of the St. George Civic Guard Company of 1639. For his part, van den Broecke (1585-1640) – like Hals and de Wolff an immigrant from Flanders – must have maintained a particularly close relationship with the artist. When the artist’s eldest daughter, Susannah, was baptised in 1634, van den Broecke, who had sat for Hals the previous year, was listed as the first witness.

Few other identified sitters can be said to have had such close personal relationships with the artist. A notable exception is the grain merchant Isaac Massa (fig. 9), who probably sat for Hals on four occasions between circa 1622 and 1635 (ibid., nos. 17, 18, 42 and 103). The informal and highly experimental portrait in Toronto is especially notable as the earliest example of Hals depicting a sitter relaxing informally in a chair, which he would go on to use on a number of occasions for sitters like Heythuysen and van den Broecke, whose friendship with the artist must have surpassed that of most sitters. Massa, whose family was originally from Antwerp, witnessed the baptism of Hals’s first daughter, Adriaentje, in 1623, while Massa’s mother witnessed the baptism of a child of Dirck Hals, the painter’s brother, in 1624. Massa’s nephew, Abraham Potterloo, was on equally intimate terms with the Hals family, having been described as the father of a daughter born out of wedlock to Hals’s daughter, Sara. Intriguingly, Massa resided on Oude Gracht after 1640, a street where at least six other known Hals patrons, including Heythuysen and the aforementioned Claes Duyst van Voorhout, also lived. Hals himself rented a house on the street from November 1643 until at least May 1644 and again in November 1650.

It was in this social context that Joost de Wolff likely encountered Haarlem’s greatest portraitist. Like many of Hals’s closest associates, de Wolff, born in Roeselare, belonged to the city’s Flemish immigrant community. His profession as a ‘linnenwever’ put him amongst one of the artist’s largest groups of known patrons. And his ownership of properties on both Grote Houtstraat and Kleine Houtstraat three blocks to its east put him squarely in Hals’s neck of the woods. Documentary information survives for six of Hals’s places of residence: Peuzelaarsteeg (January 1617-?), Groot Heiligland (March 1636-May 1636 or later), Lange Begijnestraat (February 1640-?), Kleine Houtstraat (September 1642-?), Oude Gracht (November 1643-May 1644 or later; November 1650-?), Nobelstraat (August 1644-?) and Ridderstraat (December 1653-May 1660 or later). With few exceptions, Hals would have been living within a few blocks of de Wolff.

FRANS HALS: A TRULY ‘MODERN’ ARTIST

‘That Devil Hals has no less than 27 blacks on his palette.’
-Vincent van Gogh

Hals and his works fell into obscurity in the decades after his death, only to be resuscitated following renewed scholarly interest in his paintings in the mid-nineteenth century. The great London dealer C.J. Nieuwenhuys described the state of play in the early decades of the nineteenth century, noting that Hals’s paintings were ‘so negligently executed with regard to the finish…that…it may easily be conceived that many amateurs do not esteem them’ (C.J. Nieuwenhuys, A Review of the Lives and Works of Some of the Most Eminent Painters, London, 1834, p. 131). Writing scarcely more than two decades later, the art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger – who is largely credited with renewing interest in Hals – saw two of the master’s paintings at the Art Treasures exhibition held in Manchester in 1857 and could hardly have seen things more differently, praising ‘Hals’s consummate mastery and the cheerfulness and spontaneity that emanate from both the subject matter and assumed artistic procedure’ (quoted in F.S. Jowell, ‘The Rediscovery of Frans Hals’, in Frans Hals, exhibition catalogue, Washington, London and Haarlem, 1989, p. 64). Where earlier viewers found Hals’s paintings to be unfinished and the colours insufficiently blended, Thoré insisted that ‘in his exaggerated brusqueness, his risky contrasts, his informal carelessness, there is always the hand of a bountifully talented painter, and even the sign of a certain kind of genius’ (op. cit., p. 65).

While artists had long been more sympathetic to Hals than critics and the general public (Antoine Watteau, for example, produced at least two drawings after Hals, while, later in the century, Jean-Honoré Fragonard made a drawn copy of Hals’s portrait of Willem Croes in Munich), realist painters of the mid-nineteenth century expressed an entirely new level of interest in him. Having seen Hals’s Malle Babbe in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (Slive, op. cit., no. 75), on exhibition for the first time in Munich, Gustave Courbet expressed his admiration for the artist in a remarkable copy, now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle (fig. 10).

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, a startling number of painters produced copies after Hals: Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Max Liebermann, John Singer Sargent and James Ensor, to name but a few. The American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler was so taken with Hals’s paintings on a visit to Haarlem that during a 1902 visit to the town hall afforded him the opportunity study the Regentesses of the Old Men’s Alms House nose-to-nose while standing on a chair. Writing a few years later, his biographers Elizabeth Robins and Joseph Pennell described the close encounter, where ‘he moved tenderly with his fingers over the face of one of the old women’ (quoted in F. Lammertse and B. Cornelis, ‘Honoured and Famed’, op. cit., 2023, p. 16). Others, including Edouard Manet, responded more indirectly to the master’s paintings: his Le Bon Bock, for example, exhibited at the Salon of 1873 and today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (fig. 11), was widely thought to paraphrase Hals’s paintings. When the critic Albert Wolff suggested that Manet had put ‘water into his beer’, the painter Alfred Stevens slyly retorted that it was, in fact, ‘pure Haarlem beer’ (op. cit., p. 71).

But, as the quote at the outset of this section suggests, it was Vincent van Gogh who perhaps understood Hals’s essence as an artist better than any other painter of the period. In a letter from October 1886, he praised Hals as ‘a colourist among colourists, a colourist like Veronese, like Rubens, like Delacroix, like Velasquez’ (The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, II, London, 1958, p. 424). Following two centuries of neglect, Hals had, at long last, found the admiration his works so rightly deserved.

PROVENANCE

Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray, began collecting at the start of the twentieth century, beginning with eighteenth-century British portraiture. Among his acquisitions in this arena were Thomas Gainsborough’s classic full-length portrait of Mrs William Villebois and William Beechey’s arresting portrait of George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton (1761-1827), each of which achieved a world record price for the artist at auction when sold in these Rooms on 5 July 2011. His son, the 2nd Viscount (1882-1933), would add masterpieces by Robert Peake the Elder and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, the latter of which likewise achieved a world record sum at the 2011 sale.

The grandson of Samuel Pearson (1814-1884), the 1st Viscount, was brought up in Bradford and became a partner in the family building and contracting business in 1844. An extensive tour of the United States in 1875-6 proved influential on his subsequent approach to business opportunities. By the time his father, George (1821-1899), died, Pearson had completed or embarked upon major schemes for waterworks, drains, railways, docks and tunnels both in his native England and as far afield as Spain, Malta, Egypt, the Sudan, the United States (where Pearson built both the Hudson River and East River Tunnels) Chile and – especially – Mexico. A committed liberal, Pearson, who had been made a baronet in 1894, was a Member of Parliament from 1895 until his elevation as Baron Cowdray in 1910. In 1917, shortly after his elevation as a Viscount, he was named President of the Air Board at a crucial period in World War I. His move to London, first on Campden Hill and later, in 1898, at 16 Carlton House Terrace, had a demonstrable effect on his collecting sensibilities. A substantial proportion of his finest acquisitions were destined for the residence at Carlton House Terrace.

While eighteenth-century British portraiture was where Pearson’s initial interests lay, in 1919 he embarked on the acquisition of a series of Dutch, Flemish and Spanish masterpieces, more or less coinciding with the sale of his Mexican interests to Royal Dutch Shell. In May he bought Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of the musician François Langlois from Agnew’s for £18,000 (fig. 12; now London, National Gallery, and Birmingham, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts). The following month he acquired the Hals in these Rooms for 25,500 guineas, with Agnew’s bidding on his behalf. He then bought Rembrandt’s great late portrait from 1667 from Agnew’s for £24,000 (fig. 13; now The Hague, Mauritshuis), slightly less than what he paid for the Hals, and in September made his most expensive purchase with the acquisition of Velazquez’s full-length portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares (now São Paulo Museum of Art). All of these were bought for Carlton House Terrace. At the Hamilton sale at Christie’s in November 1919, Rubens’s Daniel in the Lion’s Den, a masterpiece that had been presented by Sir Dudley Carleton to Charles I, was acquired for 2,520 guineas (now Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art), thus completing a remarkable year of buying that marked the highpoint of Cowdray’s activity as a collector.

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