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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection, Belgium

A fish market with the Antwerp harbor and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes in the distance

A fish market with the Antwerp harbor and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes in the distance
signed and dated '1568 JB' (upper right 'JB' in ligature)
oil on panel
43 ½ x 64 1⁄8 in. (110.5 x 162.7 cm.)
Private collection, England.
[The Property of a Lady]; Christie’s, London, 26 June 1964, lot 134 (1,200 gns. to Wetzlar).
Dr. Hans A. Wetzlar (d. 1977), Amsterdam.
with Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam, by 1970.
Mr. and Mrs. J. Seward Johnson, their sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 8 January 1981, lot 11.
with Kunsthandel Folkner, Duerle, until 1982, when sold to the following.
Private collection, Brussels.
with Galerie Jan De Maere, Brussels, where acquired by the present owner.
Amsterdam, Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Fine Old Master Paintings, 16 March-1 June 1970.
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Joachim Beuckelaer: het markt- en keukenstuk in de Nederlanden 1550-1650, 12 December 1986-8 March 1987, pp. 120-121, no. 6 (entry by P. Verbraeken).
Taichung, Taiwan Museum of Art, The Golden Age of Flemish Painting, 25 June-30 September 1988.
Sale Room Notice
Please note this painting is on panel, and not on canvas, as stated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

The din of fishermen calling and goods circulating seems to fill the briny air in this large, engaging scene by Joachim Beuckelaer. As is typical of the artist’s work, the image rewards close inspection, revealing multiple layers of content and meaning to the attentive eye. In the foreground, young women have set up shop on the left bank of the River Scheldt, near the harbor of Sint Anneke in Antwerp, selling an assortment of dried and fresh fish, including herring, cod and salmon. While this vignette was surely meant to capture the realities of market life at the time, the bounty displayed may also be understood to evoke the temptation of satisfying earthly hungers. The vendors’ demeanor hints that within the space of the picture, they too may be associated with the lure of desire. The seated girl at left, for example, gazes openly at the viewer, seeking a connection, while at right, her colleague in the hat cups the hem of her skirt as if to suggest the ease with which it might be lifted. While fleshly enticements of the world occupy the first tier of Beuckelaer’s painting, a path toward the spiritual nourishment provided by Christ may be found in the background, which includes imagery pertaining to the Miraculous Draught of Fishes.

As recounted in Luke 5:1-11, Christ encouraged Peter and his other disciples to cast their nets on the right side of their boat following a fruitless night of fishing on the Sea of Tiberius. To their astonishment, the men could then hardly keep up with pulling nets from the water, so full of fish were they. 'Do not be afraid', Christ said to them, 'from now on, you will be catching men'. In the distance of Beuckelaer’s composition, Peter may be seen wading to the shore after this extraordinary occurrence to greet Christ, who has appeared following his death and Resurrection. The same detail occurs in Beuckelaer’s The Miraculous Draught of Fishes of 1563, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 1). The precise relationship between the Getty picture and the present work has yet to be fully explored. In the catalogue for the 1987 exhibition in Ghent dedicated to Beuckelaer, Paul Verbraeken suggested that the artist may have left the present work unfinished (loc. cit.), perhaps deciding to return to the subject a second time for the Getty panel (the scholar in this case erroneously posited that the last digit of the date here should be read as a '3' rather than an '8'), and that some areas were later completed by another hand. Subsequent to that exhibition, however, the painting was cleaned and old overpaints removed, confirming the date as 1568 and calling Verbraeken's theory into question. In any case, the two paintings share much in common: in both, the artist also includes peasants hauling baskets teeming with fish as well as a group of bystanders admiring an abundant catch deposited on the ground, thereby blurring the line between contemporary reality and biblical narrative. Generous in size and full of appealing details, compositions such as Beuckelaer’s Fish Market were destined for the homes of Antwerp’s elite, familiar with the work of the ancient authors and contemporary humanists that informed the artist’s multifaceted imagery.

Recent analysis of the painting using infrared reflectography (fig. 2) with the assistance of Prof. dr. Maximiliaan Martens, to whom we are grateful, revealed that the overall composition of the present painting was modelled with a freehanded black chalk underdrawing, which left fine, slightly raised traces on the preparatory ground. This initial spontaneous rendering was developed further in a second stage, during which outlines were accentuated using a liquid black medium applied with a brush. Adjustments were made, included removing a central figure, probably Christ, as well as diminishing the heads and hands of the two women vendors at opposed ends of the foreground. Some of the fish and pots were also altered in scale and occasionally repositioned. In a third stage, dark accent touches were introduced and remain detectable under the final paint layer, such as the eyebrows of the vendor sitting behind the largest platter of fish while holding a vessel.

Born around 1534 to a little known family of Antwerp painters, Beuckelaer studied with his uncle by marriage, Pieter Aertsen. He became a master in the Guild of St. Luke in 1560, the year in which he also married, and his earliest works are densely populated landscapes and religious subjects seen in bird's eye view. Beuckelaer also received commissions from the Church - one of which, as recorded by Karel van Mander, was destroyed in the Iconoclastic riots of 1581 - and made designs for stained glass windows. His latest dated work is from 1574 and he died that year or shortly thereafter. He seems to have had a studio, as evidenced by a group of works associated with him and signed with the monogram HB but does not seem to have had any immediate followers in Antwerp. His work was popular in northern Italy, and by around 1580 Vincenzo Campi in Cremona and Bartolomeo Passarotti and Annibale Carracci in Bologna were painting large-scale market and kitchen scenes.

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