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Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves, half-length

Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves, half-length
oil on panel
21 x 17 1/4 in. (53.3 x 43.8 cm.)
Count Alexander Orloff-Davidoff (1871-1935), St Petersburg and Paris, by 20 February 1922.
with Dr. Hans Wendland, Lugano, by May 1926.
(Probably) with Kleinberger Galleries, New York, where acquired by,
William Goldman, New York, by 1929.
[Property of a family]; Sotheby’s, New York, 21 May 1998, lot 10, where acquired by the present owner.
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei, IX, Leiden, 1934, p. 142, no. 99, where dated to circa 1535.
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, IXa, Leiden, 1972, p. 69, no. 99, pl. 108, where dated to circa 1535.
New York, Kleinberger Galleries, Loan Exhibition of Flemish Primitives in aid of the Free Milk Fund for Babies Inc., 1929, no. 59, where dated to circa 1538.
New York, New York World's Fair, European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800: Masterpieces of Art, May-October 1939, no. 57, where dated to circa 1538 (loaned by William Goldman).
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Lot Essay

This wonderful portrait of an unknown gentleman holding a pair of gloves never received the attention it rightly deserves. When it was published by Max J. Friedländer in volume IX of Die altniederländische Malerei (finished in 1931, printed in 1934; loc. cit.), the portrait was in the collection of William Goldman in New York. Friedländer did not write much on the portrait, apart from its attribution to Joos van Cleve and its approximate date of circa 1535.

Goldman already owned the portrait in 1929, when he lent it to an exhibition at Kleinberger Galleries in New York (loc. cit.). In the entry of the catalogue, its compiler, Harry G. Sperling referred to a now lost written certificate by Friedländer where the attribution to the Antwerp painter was discussed and the painting dated to a few years later, circa 1538, two years before Joos van Cleve would pass away. Ten years later, when it was still in Goldman’s collection, the portrait was exhibited once more in New York, this time at the World's Fair, which would last from May to October 1939 (loc. cit.). The portrait was not taken up by Ludwig von Baldass in his early monograph on the artist (Joos van Cleve: der Meister des Todes Mariä, Vienna, 1925), probably because the author had no knowledge of it, nor was it discussed by John Oliver Hand in either his 1979 dissertation or the book he published on Joos van Cleve twenty-five years later (Joos van Cleve: The Complete Paintings, New Haven, 2004). In fact, the painting would, apart from Friedländer’s English edition and the 1998 auction catalogue, remain unpublished until the present day.

Both the 1929 and 1939 exhibition catalogues state that the portrait had been in the collection of Dr. Hans Wendland. Wendland was a German art agent, who had moved to Basel in 1920 and would settle in Lugano in 1926. He regarded himself not as a classical art dealer – he did not own a gallery or a shop – but instead cooperated with many established international art dealers. In this case his trade partner must have been Kleinberger in New York, who would find a client for the portrait, the already mentioned William Goldman. Before he settled in Switzerland, Wendland was working for the German government, as cultural attaché at the German Embassy in Moscow in 1918, where he was in close contact with many noble families that tried to escape the Soviet Union after the 1917 October Revolution.

It is likely that Wendland came into contact there with Count Alexei Orloff-Davidoff, who would leave St. Petersburg for Paris and, according to Max Friedländer, still owned the portrait in February 1922, after he had settled there (as recorded in a handwritten note on the reverse of a photograph at the RKD in The Hague). Wendland, who spent long periods of time in Paris, apparently purchased the portrait not much later, by May 1926 at the latest (as recorded on the reverse of the same photograph). It must therefore have been Wendland who asked Friedländer to write a certificate on the painting – which dates to 1926 – and had the portrait cleaned by the restorer Canvier that very same year (as recorded on the reverse of another photograph in the Friedländer archive).

This stunning and powerful portrait shows a man in his late thirties or early forties, luxuriously dressed in a brown-amber colored costume with a decorative pattern – Italian or French? – and a fur collar, over a dark brown coat and a white shirt. On his head he carries a fashionable brown beret. In his left hand he holds a pair of gloves, and on the little finger of his fist a gold ring with a light blue stone can be seen. It looks as if he has something in his proper right hand as well, since that is likewise closed. Based upon his fashionable outlook I am certain we are confronted here with a well-to-do citizen, perhaps a merchant or a magistrate, or even a man of noble birth. It is possible that this portrait had a pendant, most likely the sitter’s spouse, considering his position and gaze to his left. With the light coming from the left, his figure emerges emphatically from the dark green background.

The painter prepared his portrait with the aid of an underdrawing in black chalk that is especially well discernible in the face of the sitter (fig. 1). It is an experienced draftsman’s hand, subtly sketching the contours and features of the sitter’s face, often redrawing the curves, as can be seen in the nose or the facial contour to the right. In addition, the artist prepared the shadow areas by creating zones of parallel hatching, on the chin, underneath the nose and eyes, lively and spontaneously executed. It is not unlikely that the artist based these preparations on a detailed portrait drawing after life, following the routine of other great portrait painters in these days, among them Hans Holbein, Jean Clouet, Barthel Bruyn and Albrecht Dürer.

Indeed, it is hardly likely that this free hand sketch alone obtained enough details that allowed the artist to paint a face that resembled the sitter; it was clearly meant to position the facial features and prepare the shape and angle of the sitter’s head. The rest of the IRR mosaic does not show much underdrawing at all, apart from the figure’s contour lines where these deviate from the painted contours, as in the proper left shoulder of the sitter, or the contours of his whitish blouse. The brown and black paint used for the man’s garment remain opaque in infrared, which make it impossible to detect any underdrawing underneath. The hands do not show much underdrawing either, and that is odd, especially since it is clear that changes occurred between the initial set-up, visible in the IRR mosaic, and the finished hands in painting.

As is clear from the IRR mosaic, the portrait has suffered some paint losses, mostly in the background and around the join between the two oak boards that make up the panel support on which the portrait is painted. In addition, there is some minor retouching in the face and garments. Quite remarkable are the three cuts that can be made out in the IRR , possibly the result of an iconoclast attack on the portrait, not unlike Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen’s Portrait of Erard de la Marck (1472-1538) in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (for the Vermeyen, see M. Ubl and M. Faries, `A New Attribution to Jan van Scorel: The Portrait of Joost Aemsz van der Burch and the Artist’s Portrayals of “Great Lords of the Netherlands”’, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin, LXV, no. 4, 2017, pp. 357-360, fig. 4; for an IRR image of the face of the sitter, where several severe cuts are visible, ibid., p. 360, fig. 9). If that would be the case, the portrayed sitter must have been known (or thought to be known) as a devout Roman Catholic and one with a formal position as such, which would exclude him from being a mere merchant.

Joos van Cleve is most certainly the painter of this Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves, as Friedländer was inclined to believe. I agree with this attribution, although the painting should be dated a few years earlier than he proposed, around 1530. Dendrochronological examination of the two oak boards of the panel was conducted by Ian Tyers in London on 9 December 2022. His subsequent report is conclusive: both boards derive from the same tree, which was still growing in 1506, the date of the youngest heartwood ring of the larger, upper board. The tree had an eastern Baltic provenance. Since no sapwood rings were present, a terminus post quem for the earliest possible use could be made out for 1512. However, given the rather unusual horizontal structure of the two boards, it is not unlikely these were left-overs in the panel maker’s storage and therefore a much later date can be explained.

Joos van Cleve’s development as a portrait painter after 1525 remains somewhat of a mystery. Apart from the fact that hardly any of his later portraits are dated and undoubtedly some of them did not survive, this enigma can be explained by the nature of his artistic genius. He was a brilliant eclectic, not only in the production of his altarpieces, where Albrecht Dürer was a cherished source of inspiration (see P. van den Brink, 'Joos van Cleve and Albrecht Dürer: A Hypothetical Relationship’, Journal of the National Museum of Warsaw, to be published in 2023), but in his portraits as well (by far the best overview on Joos van Cleve as a portrait painter has been written by Cécile Scailliérez, 'Die Porträtkunst Joos van Cleves’, in P. van den Brink, ed., Joos van Cleve – Leonardo des Nordens, exhibition catalogue, Aachen, 2011, pp. 86-111, 190-192 (notes)).

From the mid 1520s onward, Joos van Cleve’s portraits started to move away from the refined, but rather static, models that had been provided by Quinten Massys, and he must have looked for inspiration outside of Antwerp, to be able to serve his ever growing and sophisticated international clientele. Especially Jan Gossart, and later Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen, both experienced court painters, produced fashionable portraits of noble men and women that would inspire the ambitious painter. Joos could have seen and studied those in the collections he would visit, such as Margaret of Austria’s in Mechelen. In the Portrait of a young man from the Van der Straeten family in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, painted circa 1524, or the slightly later Portrait of a young man from the Gualterotti family in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, these changes are notable in the self-assured and energetic presentation and the more dominant role of the hands. This aspect is even more outspoken in the Portrait of a 36-year old man of 1526 (fig. 2), where the two powerful, closed fists, one of them clenching another pair of gloves, seem to foreshadow those of our sitter, both in shape as in its brushwork. That portrait and its 1525 dated pendant (both Museumslandschaft Hessen-Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel) form a turning point in the artist’s search for more volume, energy and ‘presence’ in his portraiture.

In effect, Joos van Cleve’s Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves is molded upon well-known examples by Jan Gossart and Vermeyen from the late 1520s, such as the former’s Portrait of a man (Jan Jacobsz. Snoeck?) in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the latter’s Portrait of a merchant in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, or the Portrait of the Antwerp merchant Hieronymus Tucher in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (fig. 3). The two portraits by Vermeyen are exceptionally close to our portrait, especially with regard to the figure’s proportions, and relation to space, but differ in painting technique. The Tucher portrait is fascinating in comparison to our portrait for another reason, the sitter is wearing an identical gold ring with a light blue stone on the same little finger of his left hand and furthermore he wears a comparable decorative coat.

As far as we know, Vermeyen did not prepare his faces with the aid of an underdrawing in a black medium, such as black chalk, as with the Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves. Although the paintings by Joos van Cleve have been studied and documented with infrared reflectography in an almost systematic manner, hardly any of his accepted portraits have been examined this way (see M. Leeflang, Joos van Cleve: A Sixteenth-Century Antwerp Artist and his Workshop, Turnhout, 2015, pp. 68-69). Nevertheless, underdrawing can be spotted underneath the paint layers of some of Joos van Cleve’s portraits, such as that of Katlijne van Mispelteeren, the artist’s second wife, painted in the late 1530s, where a clear underdrawing is visible underneath her painted face and headdress (Royal Collection, Hampton Court). I don’t doubt preparatory underdrawing can be found in other portraits as well, just as some of the donor portraits on the artist’s altarpieces were prepared in a similar way as our portrait. A good example is the underdrawing for the portrait of the Cologne councilor Gobel Schmitgen, on the center panel of the Lamentation Altarpiece Joos van Cleve painted in 1524 for the north altar of the Sankt Maria in Lyskirchen in Cologne (ibid., p. 103, fig. 3.12).

As stated before, Joos van Cleve would have made a detailed drawing of the sitter’s face that would guide him during painting. The underdrawing was only meant as a general guideline. This typical method was used in an identical way by one of Joos van Cleve’s followers, the so-called Master of the 1540s, who was most likely active in the artist’s studio during the 1530s. Several painted portraits by this artist were studied and documented with the aid of infrared reflectography and they all share similar ‘technical’ underdrawings that must have been based on detailed portrait drawings, as was already suggested by Ron Spronk in 1997 (R. Spronk, 'A Portrait of a Man by the Master of the 1540s’, in P. van den Brink and L.M. Helmus, eds., Album Discipulorum J.R.J. van Asperen de Boer, Zwolle, 1997, pp. 200-201). Therefore it is sad, as Micha Leeflang already stated, that no portrait drawings by Joos van Cleve survived, or for that matter by the Master of the 1540s (M. Leeflang, op. cit., p. 69).

Joos van Cleve would not linger very long near his Netherlandish colleagues. A trip to France, somewhere between 1529 and 1533 – and a possible visit by Holbein in Antwerp on his way to London in 1532 – must have opened his eyes to even more sophisticated portraits by Jean Clouet, Corneille de Lyon and especially Holbein, as Cécile Scailliérez would argue convincingly (see C. Scailliérez, op. cit., pp. 104-111). His two male portraits in the Louvre (fig. 4) and in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, cannot be understood except in connection with Hans Holbein the Younger’s portraits of the early 1530s.

Peter van den Brink

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