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A lady sewing lace in an interior

A lady sewing lace in an interior
oil on canvas
19 ½ x 15 ½ in. (49.5 x 39.4 cm.)
William Sharp Ogden (1845-1926), architect and historian; (†) Christie's, London, 6 December 1926, lot 54 (230 gns. to the following),
with A.H. Buttery, London, 1926.
Mrs. Holdbrooke, Bladon Castle, Burton-on-Trent; Christie's, London, 17 February 1939, lot 143, where acquired for 52 gns. by the following,
with W. Sabin, London.
John T. Dorrance, Jr. (1919-1989); Sotheby's, New York, 11 January 1990, lot 12.
with Colnaghi, London, by 1992, by whom sold to,
Professor Nelson Goodman (1906-1998), Massachusetts.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 1998, lot 67, where acquired for $112,500 by the following,
Anonymous sale [Property of a Distinguished Private Collector]; Christie's, London, 3 July 2012, lot 10, where acquired by the present owner.
R. Kultzen, Michiel Sweerts, Ph.D. dissertation, Hamburg, 1954, p. 45, no. 122.
R. Longhi, 'Qualche appunto su Michele Sweerts', Paragone, IX, 1958, p. 74, no. 107, fig. 30.
R. Kultzen, Michiel Sweerts, Doornspijk, 1996, p. 135, no. D6, fig. 150, under 'doubtful attributions', on the basis of an old photograph.
J. Bikker, 'The Deutz Brothers, Italian Paintings and Michiel Sweerts: New Information from Elisabeth Coymans's "Journael"', Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 1998, XXVI, no. 4, p. 299, fig. 18.
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, An offbeat American Collection of Dutch and Flemish Paintings, November 1993-January 1994, no. 18.
Worcester, MA, Worcester Art Museum, 1995-1996, on loan (lent by Nelson Goodman).

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Maja Markovic
Maja Markovic Director, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Michael Sweerts was one of the most intriguing and enigmatic artists of the seventeenth century. A painter and printmaker, and later a lay missionary, Sweerts enjoyed an itinerant life. He travelled to Rome in 1646, where he is recorded as living on the via Margutta, the hub of artistic activity in the city, and working in the Accademia di San Luca. By the mid-1650s he had moved back to Brussels, and would spend time in Amsterdam before departing to Persia and India, to spread the word of his deeply held faith: such was his devotion that a priest described him as a man who 'eats no meat, fasts almost every day and takes communion three or four times a week'. In subsequent centuries his fame as an artist waned, and he slipped into relative obscurity before his work received significant new critical attention following Rolf Kultzen's monograph in 1996, a major touring exhibition in 2002 (Amsterdam, San Francisco and Hartford) and, most recently in 2015, Lara Yeager-Crasselt's examination of Sweerts' seminal role in the development of the Netherlandish academic tradition within the artistic, intellectual and cultural contexts of Brussels and Rome in the seventeenth century.

As an artist, Sweerts was long associated with the Dutch Golden Age, despite being born in Brussels, and with the Bamboccianti, the circle of predominantly northern painters living in Rome who depicted 'low-life', 'realistic' scenes. Sweerts' artistic output resists simple categorisation, however. He appears to embrace opposing 'realistic' and classicist tendencies, on the one hand depicting scenes of everyday life, but on the other evidently conscious of academic tradition (see, for example, the recently rediscovered Artist's Studio with a Seamstress sold in these Rooms, 6 July 2023, lot 6 for £12,615,000). He turned his hand to history painting, portraiture and genre scenes, a repertoire that was as broad as his handling was skillful. And though he appeared to be a romantic outsider, he nonetheless enjoyed the patronage of establishment figures, including wealthy merchants such as the Deutz brothers and Prince Camillo Pamphilj in Rome.

The present composition is typically compelling. As in some of his other works, Sweerts has chosen to make use of dramatic chiaroscuro to light the scene, bringing out the colours and folds in the woman's clothes against a dark background, and thus heightening the intensity of the image. Sweerts generates a slight tension by adding the manservant in the background: the viewer's eye is drawn to the boy, and to the glistening pot in his hand, as he exits stage right, yet it is pulled back by the soulful, engaging gaze of the woman, who bears a resemblance to the figure in the work by Sweerts held at the Worcester Art Museum.

This picture not only evidences Sweerts' great painterly talent but also treats a subject – the seamstress or lacemaker – which recurs time and again in his works. The lacemaker treats her simple activities with considerable respect, serving as an exemplar of the calm of classical art that Sweerts wove into his genre scenes with striking originality. She looks up, as if momentarily interrupted by the viewer's presence, and may well serve as a personification of artistic practice. Much like the repetitive task of sewing, Sweerts appears to suggest that artistic knowledge and skill can only be attained by practice and repetition.

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