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Esther at her toilet

Esther at her toilet
indistinctly signed ‘A De Gelder f’ ('AD' linked, upper right)
oil on canvas
43 3/8 x 48 1/2 in. (110 x 123 cm.)
(Possibly) David Jetswaart [Ietswaart]; Amsterdam, 22 April 1749, lot 136.
Professor R.M. Dawkins, Abergele, Wales, and Exeter College, Oxford; (†), Sotheby’s, London, 2 November 1955, lot 161, where acquired for £4,200 by the following,
with Edward Speelman, London.
with Herner Wengraf, London, by 1970.
with H. Shickman Gallery, New York, 1976.
with John H. Schlichte Bergen, Amsterdam, by 1989.
Private collection, Europe.
with H.M. Cramer, The Hague, 1992
[Property of a European Private Collector]; Christie’s, New York, 29 January 1998, lot 114, where acquired by the present owner.
(Possibly) G. Hoet, Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, II, The Hague, 1752, p. 247, no. 136.
E. Brochhagen, Holländische Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1967, p. 27, under no. 841.
D.R. van Fossen, ‘The Paintings of Aert de Gelder’, Ph.D. dissertation, 1969, pp. 143, 150, 250, no. 40, fig. 42.
J. Daniels, ‘London Galleries: Baroque Dialogues’, Apollo, XCI, 1970, p. 309, pl. 2.
G. Eckardt, Die Gemälde in der Bildergalerie von Sanssouci, Potsdam, 1975, p. 40, under no. 28.
W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, II, Landau/Pfalz, 1983, pp. 1165, 1204, no. 744, illustrated.
B. Haak, Hollandse schilders in de Gouden Eeuw, Amsterdam, 1984, p. 370, fig. 781.
‘Loans’, The Israel Museum Journal, V, Spring 1986, p. 128, illustrated.
Apollo, CXXIX, March 1989, p. 68, illustrated.
A. Blankert, Ten years of Kunsthandel drs. John H. Schlichte Bergen, 1979-1989, Amsterdam, 1989, pp. 36-38, illustrated.
J. Boonen, 'Verhalen van Israëls ballingschap en vrijheidsstrijd,' Het Oude Testament in de Schilderkunst van de Gouden Eeuw, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam and Jerusalem, 1991, pp. 107-108, 118, note 11.
J.W. von Moltke, Arent de Gelder: Dordrecht 1645-1727, Doornspijk, 1994, pp. 37, 73, no. 27, color pl. XIV, pl. 27.
P. Sutton, in Arent de Gelder (1645-1727): Rembrandts laatste leerling, exhibition catalogue, Dordrecht and Cologne, 1998-1999, p. 168, under no. 20, fig. 1.
‘XVIII Speciale Dipinti antichi/I resultati delle vendite all’asta’, Il Giornale dell’Arte, no. 176, April 1999, illustrated.
Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Rembrandt als leermeester, 1 June-1 September 1956, no. 58.
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, Holland’s Golden Age, 18 February-7 April 1959, no. 40.
London, Herner Wengraf, Acquisitions 1970: Fine Paintings of Five Centuries, April 1970, no. 13.
Munich, Bernheimer, Kunst und Tradition: Meisterwerke bedeutender Provenienzen, 1989, pp. 84-85.
Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Im Lichte Rembrandts: Das Alte Testament im Goldenen Zeitalter der Niederländischen Kunst, 11 September-20 November 1994, no. 54 (cat. by C. Tümpel).
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Lot Essay

Aert de Gelder was born into a wealthy Dordrecht family and has the distinction of being Rembrandt’s last pupil. De Gelder was first apprenticed to Samuel van Hoogstraten in Dordrecht around 1660 or a few years earlier, but the elder artist’s departure for England in 1662 likely induced de Gelder to move to Amsterdam and complete his training with Rembrandt, with whom he probably studied for a period of two years. Like Rembrandt, de Gelder would devote most of his painterly attention to the production of portraits and history paintings. Despite the prevailing taste for classicism, de Gelder remained faithful to Rembrandt’s late expressive style for the entirety of his career. So close were the two artists that an advertisement in the Amsterdamsche Courant on 30 September 1727 announcing the auction of works from de Gelder’s estate described him as ‘the only pupil of Rembrandt who faithfully followed his famous master in painting.’

In the first half of the 1680s, de Gelder increasingly focused on Biblical scenes. Of the narrative subjects painted in this period, all but one is taken from the Old Testament. Of these, as von Moltke has suggested, a surprising number deal with ‘[t]he age-old subject of an older man’s desire for a young woman’ (op. cit., p. 25). Among de Gelder’s favorite subjects in the period were Judah and Tamar (von Moltke, op. cit., nos. 12 and 13), Lot and his Daughters (von Moltke, op. cit., nos. 2-4) and, above all others, episodes from the story of Esther (von Moltke, op. cit., nos. 25-41).

De Gelder’s fascination with the story of Esther probably began with the large Ahasuerus and Esther in the Musée de Picardie, Amiens, a work which is datable to the early 1680s. The story of Esther is recounted in the Old Testament Book of Esther, which tells of her relationship with the Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), who reigned in the fifth century B.C. After his queen, Vashti, disobeyed him, Ahasuerus had her deposed and sought a new wife. On account of her beauty, Esther, a young Jew, was selected to marry Ahasuerus. Meanwhile, the king’s recently appointed minister, Haman, plotted to massacre all Jews living in Persia as retribution for Mordecai, uncle and guardian of Esther, refusing to prostrate himself before the minister. Unaware that his bride is Jewish, Ahasuerus initially agreed to Haman’s plan. Having become aware of the plan, Mordecai asked Esther to intercede on her people’s behalf. Esther, dressed in her finest clothing, then went to Ahasuerus, who acknowledged her and, the following day, ate with her and Haman at a lavish banquet, where he granted her request to spare her people. Haman, believing he was in the king’s good graces, erected a gallows on which he planned to hang Mordecai. The gallows were instead used to hang Haman at Ahasuerus’ orders and, following Haman’s execution, the king gave his estate to Esther and named Mordecai as his adviser.

The story of Esther was especially popular among Dutch painters of the seventeenth century, notably among artists in Rembrandt’s circle. De Gelder, however, depicted scenes from the biblical narrative more frequently than any of Rembrandt’s other followers. While it has been suggested that the quantity and unusual incidents of some of de Gelder’s paintings of this subject reflected an intention that the paintings form a series, their disparate sizes and techniques suggests otherwise (for the suggestion that they formed a series, see D. Lettieri, ‘Text, Narrative and Tradition: Scenes from Esther by Aert de Gelder,’ The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, VIII, 1980, pp. 69-86). Instead, the popularity of this subject within de Gelder’s work – and Dutch painting more broadly – may have much to do with the perceived parallel between the story of the salvation of the Jews and the equally improbable Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Eighty Years’ War.

This painting, which both Sumowski and von Moltke dated to the mid-1680s (both loc. cit.), depicts Esther at her toilet, a subject which evidently held particular appeal for de Gelder, who painted it on no fewer than three occasions (von Moltke, op. cit., nos. 27-29). De Gelder was likely enamored by this episode in the narrative both because it provided the opportunity to depict sumptuous costumes and because it was a decisive moment in the biblical narrative. Like the examples in Munich and Potsdam (figs. 1 and 2), both of which almost assuredly date to the same period (the Munich painting is dated 1684), this painting presents Esther as ‘a determined young queen, neither very young nor pretty, whose facial expression conveys the gravity of her mission’ (von Moltke, op. cit., p. 36). She wears a nearly identical embroidered gown that opens to reveal a red garment with divided triangles and red tassels in all three works. Her dress is strikingly close to that which appears in a drawing of circa 1636 which was long given to Rembrandt but is today attributed to his pupil Jan Victors (see H. Bevers, Zeichnungen der Rembrandtschule im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden and Berlin, 2018, no. 107).

Unlike the Munich and Potsdam paintings, where Esther is served by four attendants, here only two appear. A maidservant places a bracelet on her arm, while a second seems to be sewing in the right background. When compared with the other two paintings, here de Gelder achieves a greater degree of psychological penetration. Not only has he simplified the composition by reducing the number of figures, but each woman is entirely engrossed in her own thoughts or actions. This sense of isolation is subtly reinforced by de Gelder’s method of lighting his figures, which bathes each woman in a separate pool of light. This reduction in the number of figures combined with its heightened emotional appeal looks ahead to de Gelder’s single-figure depictions of Esther, all of which are datable to the second half of the 1680s (von Moltke, op. cit., nos. 39-41).

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