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JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)
JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)
JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)
JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)
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JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)

Portrait of a boy, with an axe, half-length, probably Jasper Lemmers (1640-1697)

Details
JACOB ADRIAENSZ. BACKER (HARLINGEN 1608/09-1651 AMSTERDAM)
Portrait of a boy, with an axe, half-length, probably Jasper Lemmers (1640-1697)
signed in monogram ‘JA B.’ (‘JA’ linked, lower right)
oil on panel
28 ¼ x 23 1/8 in. (71.5 x 60 cm.)
Provenance
Private collection, The Netherlands.

Brought to you by

Francois de Poortere
Francois de Poortere International Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

This beautifully preserved, newly discovered painting can be dated to the mid-1640s, a period in which Jacob Adriaensz. Backer had largely freed himself from the overtly Rembrandtesque qualities of his earlier work in favor of a more fashionable classicizing style. While Backer never studied under Rembrandt, he was nevertheless influenced by his work through his close association with artists like Govaert Flinck, with whom Backer relocated to Amsterdam in 1633 and who himself became a pupil of Rembrandt. Through Rembrandt’s paintings of the late 1620s and early 1630s, Backer would have become familiar with the tronie, a new type of representation Rembrandt developed alongside Jan Lievens which combined aspects of portraiture and history painting but, unlike portraiture, did not require that the sitter be identifiable. Vestiges of Rembrandt’s continued influence may be seen in Backer’s use of studio props, including the hat with a feather in it, which also features in his Young boy with a hat of circa 1640 (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). Similarly, Rembrandt’s penchant for the ‘unfinished’ can be detected in Backer’s virtuoso handling of the boy’s proper right hand, which is only summarily indicated with dead-coloring.

Much like that of his contemporaries, it can be difficult to distinguish between portraits and tronies in Backer’s work. For example, Backer’s Shepherd with a flute (Mauritshuis, The Hague) has generally been seen as a self-portrait, as have the allegorical representations of Taste (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) and Hearing (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest). In recent decades a related drawing for the present painting, now in the Clement C. Moore Collection, has come to light and may help to answer the question of whether or not the painting should be viewed as a portrait (fig. 1). Though the artist has changed the orientation of the boy’s head in the final painting, there can be little doubt the two works are connected given the uncharacteristic addition of the axe, the shared posture from the neck down and the affinities between the boy’s fleshy facial features in each. The verso of the drawing also includes an eighteenth-century inscription which provides a clue as to the young boy’s identity: ‘Jasije Lemmers / heft gemaakt het / gasthuijs der gekken’. The specificity of this early inscription would suggest that it should be taken seriously.

When Jane Shoaf Turner published this inscription in 2012, she translated it as ‘Jasije Lemmers had the insane asylum built’ and tentatively identified the sitter as one Jacobus Lemmers (J.S. Turner, Rembrandts World: Dutch Drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2012, p. 92, no. 37). In fact, the inscription references the little-known seventeenth-century playwright Jasper Lemmers, whose work includes Het Gasthuis der Gekken (The Insane Asylum), which was based on Charles de Beys’ LOspital des fous (1634) and was first performed at the Amsterdam Schouwburg in 1688. Thus, the inscription might more successfully be translated as ‘Jasper Lemmers wrote The Insane Asylum’.

Very little is known of Lemmers today, though he appears to have enjoyed a certain notoriety in his own time, for his image was included among the 346 portraits that comprised the contemporary painter Arnoud van Halen’s Panpoeticon Batavum, 80 of which are today in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Jasper was baptized on 18 September 1640 in the Nieuwe Kerk, the second child of Jan Lemmers (b. 1612), who between 1638 and 1649 was one of the highest earning actors at the Amsterdam Schouwburg, and his wife Belijtje van Haren (for more on Jan, see P.J. Blok and P.C. Molhuysen, Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek, V, Leiden, 1921, pp. 314-315). On 7 April 1668 Jasper married Eewouda Selhart, with whom he had at least four children, all of whom died young. At the time of his marriage, he was described as a ‘maeckelaer’ (‘broker’ or ‘estate agent’), in which capacity he appears in several archival documents of the 1670s and 1680s. His familiarity with commercial affairs may even have given rise to his choice of theatrical subjects, with his farces De boerekoopman (1682) and Het noodzakelijk Bedrog (1694) both dealing with this theme. On 13 August 1689 Jasper, then widowed, married Machtelt Kamphuijsen, with whom he had had a child, Jan, out of wedlock the previous year. The couple would go on to have four more children before he passed away and was buried in the Nieuwe Zijds Chapel on 27 March 1697.

The young boy depicted here – presumably around the age of four or five – comports well with Jasper’s own age at the time of the painting’s creation. Not coincidentally, Backer also circulated in the artistic milieu of the Schouwburg – where he may well have come to know the child’s father – around this time. For example, Jacob van Campen, the theater’s architect, served as a witness to the baptism of Backer’s niece in 1639. The following year Backer himself signed the marriage banns for the painter Steven Jansz. van Goor, who furnished the enormous painted landscapes that decorated the newly built Schouwburg.

We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for endorsing the attribution on the basis of photographs.

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