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Pieter Boel (Antwerp 1622-1674 Paris)
Pieter Boel (Antwerp 1622-1674 Paris)

A porcupine in profile, with two subsidiary studies of its head

Details
Pieter Boel (Antwerp 1622-1674 Paris)
A porcupine in profile, with two subsidiary studies of its head
black and red chalk, on light brown paper, on three joined sheets
6 1/8 x 12 ¼ in. (15.5 x 31 cm.)
Provenance
Emile Calando (1840-1899) (L. 837; his inventory: '1023.2 Etude de porc épic mangeant tête vers gauche, 16 x 31); Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17-18 March 1927, part of lot 21 (105 francs to Godefroy).
with Godefroy, Paris; from whom probably purchased by I.Q. van Regteren Altena on 20 October 1927 for 40 guilders (Inventory book: '347. t. P. Boel stekelvarken').
Literature
C. van Hasselt, in Flemish Drawings of the 17th Century from the Collection of Frits Lugt, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, exhib. cat., London, Victoria & Albert Museum, and other locations, 1972, p. 125, under no. 93.
E. Starcky, Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du nord: Ecoles allemande, des Anciens Pays-Bas, flamande, hollandaise et suisse, XVe-XVIIIe siècles, Paris, 1988, p. 113, no. 134.
Exhibited
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Paris, Fondation Custodia, and Brussels, Bibliothèque Albert 1er, Le Cabinet d’un Amateur: Dessins flamands et hollandais des XVIe et XVIIe siècles d’une collection privée d’Amsterdam, 1976-77, no. 25, pl. 112 (catalogue by J. Giltaij).

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Lot Essay

Born into an artistic family in Antwerp, Boel was a pupil of the animal painter Jan Fyt (1611-1661). After travelling to Italy as a young man, he settled in Paris in circa 1668 where he joined the great tapestry workshop established by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690). Like his former master Fyt, Boel came to specialise in painting animals and he was particularly renowned for the striking realism of his pictures. He made studies for them from specimens in the royal menageries at Versailles and in Paris. Porcupines had particular symbolism for the French royal family: their ancestor Louis, Duke of Orléans, had established the chivalric Order of the Porcupine in 1394, drawing on the animal's reputation for invincibility and, even though the Order itself was abolished by King Louis XII, the porcupine remained one of his personal emblems. The animals consequently appear several times in Boel's oil sketches for the royal tapestry works: one, in a similar pose to that in the present drawing, can be seen in a tapestry representing August in a cycle of the Months (see E. Foucart-Walter, Pieter Boel 1622-1674: Peintre des animaux de Louis XIV, exhib. cat., Paris, Louvre, 2001, p. 89, fig. 15). This cycle, consisting of twelve tapestries woven at the Manufacture des Gobelins, had been commissioned from Charles Le Brun in around 1668: each tapestry represented a particular month along with one of the French royal palaces. Le Brun engaged other artists to help with his designs for this prestigious commission, each according to their strengths: Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636-1699) executed the flowers and plants, while Baudouin Yvart (1611-1690) painted the draperies and Boel the animals. An oil sketch used for this commission, showing three porcupines, was among the eighty studies transferred from the Manufacture des Gobelins to the Louvre during the French Revolution; it is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes (Foucart-Walter, op. cit., no. 70).

The Calando sale in 1927 included four studies of porcupines by Pieter Boel, showing the animals from various angles and probably studied from specimens in the 'Ménagerie royale' in Paris. The four drawings were in a single lot, purchased by the Parisian dealer Godefroy. Van Regteren Altena purchased two of the Calando porcupines from Godefroy several months after the sale, listing them in his inventory book as 'stekelvarken' (no. 347) and 'klein stekelvarken' (no. 348). In 1928, van Regteren Altena returned the 'klein stekelvarken' to Godefroy as part of an exchange, as a result of which he acquired one or possibly two more porcupine studies by Boel (inventory book no. 573). These were probably the remaining drawings from the Calando sale. Owing to the very similar descriptions in the inventory, and the fact that all ultimately came from the Calando sale, it is not possible to determine whether the present drawing was acquired in 1927 or 1928. The 'klein stekelvarken' exchanged with Godefroy, showing the porcupine facing right rather than left, is now in the Louvre (Starcky, op. cit.). Van Regteren Altena later presented one of his remaining Boel porcupines as a gift to his friend the artist Joseph Teixeira de Mattos (1892-1971), who in turn bequeathed it to the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (inv. TdM B 003). The Teylers drawing, in which the porcupine is shown facing left with erect quills, had been exhibited in 1938 in Rotterdam (Meesterwerken uit vier Eeuwen, 1938, no. 231, pl. 278), a reference which is sometimes incorrectly given for the present drawing.

We are grateful to Denis Calando for his assistance in establishing the provenance of this drawing.

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