Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)
2 More
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)
5 More
PROPERTY OF A FAMILY
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)

Head of a bearded man

Details
JAN LIEVENS (LEIDEN 1607-1674 AMSTERDAM)
Head of a bearded man
oil on panel
22 5/8 x 17 7/8 in. (57.5 x 45.5 cm.)
Provenance
In the family of the present owners since the 19th century.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A work of brooding intensity, this newly discovered picture by Jan Lievens was painted during his most creative, early phase in Leiden. The picture has been in the same private collection since at least the nineteenth century, where it has always been known as a Rembrandt. Early Lievens paintings have often been confused with those by Rembrandt. The two artists were exact contemporaries and famously worked alongside each other in Leiden in the second half of the 1620s, in a burst of activity that revolutionised painting in seventeenth century Holland. Often using the same models, they painted in a similar way, introducing dramatic lighting and applying paint wet on wet with extraordinary dexterity and control, occasionally, as in this case, using the reverse end of the brush to carve out lines and highlights in the undried paint. While Rembrandt was traditionally assumed to have played the lead role in this relationship, because of the mythical status he went on to achieve, it is now argued that the more experienced Jan Lievens was actually the driving force and dominant personality at this decisive moment (E. Van de Wetering, The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, 2001, pp. 39 and 51).
A child prodigy, Lievens returned to his native Leiden in 1619, having completed his training with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, and immediately started to produce independent works of remarkable quality. Jan Jansz. Orlers, Mayor of Leiden and an early biographer of the artist, noted: ‘His consummate skills astounded the numerous connoisseurs of art who found it hard to believe that a mere stripling of twelve or scarcely any older could produce such works’ (cited in A.J. Wheelock, Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered, Washington, 2008, p. 288). Lievens and Rembrandt, who had also studied under Lastman in Amsterdam, began to collaborate in 1625, possibly even sharing a studio.
The present work is dateable to 1631, at the very end of this Leiden period, the same year that Rembrandt departed for Amsterdam. It is a mesmerising example of the type of ad vivum head study developed and popularised by the two artists. Not portraits per se, but character studies or tronies as they became known, which gave the artists the freedom to focus, not on achieving a likeness, but purely on rendering the character and emotion of their subjects. Here Lievens examines the wisdom of old age through a detailed depiction of the physical state of an old bearded man, painted with unhesitating verve. His prime interest, like Rembrandt’s, is in describing the truth of the human condition, devoid of grandiosity and pretension. As Constantijn Huygens, writing in 1629, claimed: ‘In painting the human countenance, he [Lievens] wreaks miracles’ (cited in E. van de Wetering, op. cit., p. 398). Huygens praised these tronies as: ‘works of inestimable value and unrivalled artistry’, and with the help of his promotion, they found their way into some of the most prominent collections of the day, including those of the Stadtholder Prince Frederik Hendrik, his treasurer, Thomas Brouart, the artist Jacob de Gheyn III, and the Amsterdam tax collector Nicolaas Sohier. A version of the present work was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 20 January 2015, lot 55, as ‘Attributed to Jan Lievens’ (see B. Schnackenburg, Jan Lievens Friend and Rival of the young Rembrandt, Petersberg, 2016, no. 193).
We are grateful to Lloyd de Witt and Bernard Schnackenburg for independently confirming the attribution to Jan Lievens on the basis of photographs. The former will be including the work in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné. A dendrochronological report and infra-red reflectogram are both available on request.

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All