Documented in the Russian Imperial collection in St. Petersburg by 1797, Old man at a casement is a rediscovered painting by Govaert Flinck which may now be considered one of his most significant works. Although the picture appeared at an exhibition in Berlin in 1932, the composition was for a long period known to most scholars only by virtue of several copies (all on canvas; see appendix to this entry), so that neither Werner Sumowski nor Joachim von Moltke were familiar with the present work in time for their publications on Flinck (1983 and 1965, respectively). Von Moltke, however, did subsequently get to inspect the picture in person, describing it in a letter to the late owner (14 February 1973) as: 'ganz ungewöhnlich gut und sehr charakteristisch' ('extraordinarily good and very characteristic').
HP ADDITION RE BODE CERTIFICATE (fig. 1)
Govaert Flinck was one of Rembrandt's most talented pupils. His biographer Arnold Houbraken records that he worked in Rembrandt's Amsterdam studio for just a year - probably 1635-6 - and in this short time became so adept at painting in Rembrandt's manner that several of his pictures were sold as works by Rembrandt's own hand (A. Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh de Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen..., II, Amsterdam, 1718-1721, p. 18). By the mid 1640s Flinck had built up a flourishing career in his own right, to the extent that he had become one of Rembrandt's chief rivals in Amsterdam, both as a history painter and as a fashionable portraitist. He had also by this time become independently wealthy by virtue of his marriage in 1645 to Ingeltje Thoveling (1619-1655), the daughter of a director of the East India Company. In May 1644 he paid 10,000 guilders to acquire two adjoining houses on the Lauriersgracht (now numbers 76 and 78) and converted the top two floors into a studio and gallery. Houbraken describes a visit to the studio in which he found a Rembrandt-like array of items including exotic textiles, costumes, jewellery, armour and sculptures, for use in paintings of exactly this kind.
Rembrandt's tronies -- imaginary portraits based on live models -- which he had been painting regularly since the 1630s, were clearly influential on Flinck's own work in this area. These frequently featured old, bearded men in antique costume, referred to generically as philosophers or prophets, with emphasis given to their perceived wisdom in old age. Flinck's sitter here wears a red velvet cap, a gold chain, a black fur-trimmed coat, and a lace shirt with elaborately frilled cuffs, and is depicted leaning on a richly embroidered cushion. Like Rembrandt, Flinck uses this style of costume in a deliberate effort to transplant his subject into a timeless past, redolent with Biblical, classical and medieval associations. Similar attire and probably the same model were used by Flinck a year earlier for the Bearded man in a velvet cap (New York, Metropolitan Museum; see fig. 2). However, while the sitter for the New York picture is evenly lit and observed bust-length in much the same manner that Flinck might employ for a standard portrait, in the present work the lighting is far more dramatic (and distinctly Rembrandtesque) and the pose much more spontaneaous and expressive. The man is seen leaning forward, resting his head on his clenched left hand in an everyday gesture that suggests contemplation and perhaps a degree of world-weary resignation. The pictorial origins of this gesture may be traced back to Albrecht Dürer's Melancholia engraving (fig. 3; 1514, Bartsch 74), in which Melancholy is personified by a winged woman, seated with her head in her hand, surrounded by instruments of learning yet paralysed by idleness. Although Rembrandt seems never to have committed this particular pose to paint, he did experiment with it in a number of drawings executed around the time that Flick was operating in his studio. These include the sheet in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, showing Saskia at a window in which she supports her head with her left hand (see fig. 4).
The support used for the present painting has been examined by Professor Peter Klein, who has confirmed that it is a single-plank poplar panel. The use of poplar is unusual in the context of North Netherlandish panel painting. However, in the mid-1630s and the 1640s, Rembrandt and artists in his circle started to experiment with panels made using a variety of exotic imported woods such as cordia, walnut and mahogany, as well as poplar, rather than just oak (see J. Bauch and D. Eckstein, 'Woodbiological investigations on panels of Rembrandt Paintings', in Wood Science and Technology, 15, 1981, pp. 251-63). Rembrandt's paintings on poplar include the Portrait of Maria Trip, from circa 1639 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
On canvas, 71.1 x 60.3 cm.
Sir Arthur du Cros, Bt., Craigwell House, Aldwick, Sussex; Christie's, London, 18 February 1944, lot 122, as Salomon Koninck (unsold).
Sir William Edmund Butlin (1899-1980), before 1964 (his label on the reverse of the frame, dating from before his knighthood in that year).
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 April 2003, lot 32, as 'Follower of Govaert Flinck' (sold £25,095 including premium).
On canvas, 77.5 x 64.8 cm. Variously attributed to Flinck and Salomon Koninck.
(Possibly) with Kunsthandel Paul Rusch, Dresden, as Koninck, according to an annotation in the RKD files.
Christopher William Vane, 1st Baron Barnard, CMG,OBE,MC,TD (1888-1964), Raby Castle; Kemp, London, 30 March 1922, lot 51, 'Govert Flink. A Burgomaster, quarter length, grey hair, beard and moustache, flat red velvet cap, brown velvet dress, white linen ruffles, jewelled neck chain, ring on right fore finger, head resting on left hand. Canvas 30 1/2 in. by 25 1/2 in.'.
J.W. Von Moltke, Govaert Flinck, Amsterdam, 1965, p. 122-23, no. 269, illustrated.
On canvas, 60.3 x 50.8 cm.
Mrs. N. Kraucevicius, Australia, 1962, as 'Bol', where recorded in a file in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
On canvas, 61 x 52.1 cm.
Count Nicholas N. Zouboff, Russia, before 1900, and by descent to Olga Zouboff-Olsoufieff, by whom given to Natalie Olsoufieff-Krauce, and by descent; Christie's, New York, 18 May 1994, lot 193, as 'Circle of Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774) - An old Man before a Casement. After a painting by Govaert Flinck formerly in the collection of Lord Barnard, London, 1922' (sold $31,150).
By Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, after Flinck (untraced)
H. Dawe, for Gems of the Old Masters, 1833/34, part II, no. 4, 'A Dutch Burgomaster', after Dietrich, after Koninck.
Acquired by Catherine the Great as part of her first and perhaps most sensational en bloc art purchase, An old man at a casement is a rediscovered work by Govaert Flinck that may now be considered one of his most significant and powerful paintings. First documented in 1764 as by Rembrandt ('extra fein gemahlt'), the picture may have remained under this attribution in the Russian Imperial collection for well into the nineteenth century. It was not until 1928, in a certificate made in Berlin by the scholar Wilhelm von Bode, that the painting was formally recognized for the first time as by Flinck (fig. 1). Notwithstanding this, and the painting's subsequent appearance in an exhibition in Berlin in 1932, the composition appears to have been known to a wider circle of scholars only by virtue of several copies (all on canvas; see appendix), so that neither Joachim von Moltke nor Werner Sumowski were aware of the present work at the time of their respective publications on Flinck, in 1965 and 1983. However, Von Moltke did later get to see the painting in person and described it in a letter to the late owner (14 February 1973) as: 'ganz ungewöhnlich gut and sehr charakteristisch' ('extraordinarily good and very characteristic'). Recently, the attribution has kindly been confirmed on the basis of photographs by Tom van der Molen, who will include An old man at a casement in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Flinck's paintings.
The foundation of the Imperial Hermitage and of its successor, the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, is traditionally traced to 1764, the year in which Catherine the Great (fig. 5), crowned Empress of All the Russias less than two years earlier, made her first purchase of pictures. This founding acquisition was to unleash a passion for collecting which saw, over ensuing decades, the purchase en bloc of some of Europe's greatest private collections, including those of Sir Robert Walpole at Houghton Hall, Crozat de Thiers in Paris, Tronchin in Geneva and Count Heinrich Brühl in Dresden, and was to leave Saint Petersburg with a picture gallery rivaled by few others to this day. Alongside works by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Gerrit van Honthorst, Hans von Aachen, Bartholomeus van der Helst and Hendrick Goltzius, the group with which Catherine began collecting included Govaert Flinck's An old man at a casement, which is documented in the Imperial Collection at the Winter Palace from its very origins and into the nineteenth-century.
The collection which Catherine acquired in 1764 was formed by a fascinating figure from Berlin, the entrepreneur and investor Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky (fig. 6). Born into an impoverished family of Polish nobility in Konitz (Chojnice), Gotzkowsky was orphaned at the age of five and moved to live with relatives in Dresden and then Berlin, where at fourteen he began to work in his brother's jewellery and trinket shop; by the mid-1740s, he found himself in the business of producing luxury lace and velvet for an elite courtly clientele. Asked by King Frederick the Great to promote the Prussian silk trade in competition with France, Gotzkowsky founded a factory employing 1,500 people, and subsequently advised the King on toll levies and import restrictions. The porcelain factory which he founded to rival Meissen porcelain production was acquired by the crown in 1761 and lives on as the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM). In 1755, Frederick, who had decided to build a gallery of Old Masters for Sanssouci, his summer palace at Potsdam, commissioned Gotzkowsky to act as his agent and advisor in the purchase of suitable pictures. Gotzkowsky seems to have thrown himself into this new challenge with a passion, and by 1756 Frederick had received the first group of paintings. Gotzkowsky continued buying for the King; however, the Seven Years' War, which pitted Frederick's armies against those of the Russian Empire, placed a strain on Prussian state finances, and in 1761 Frederick was forced to decline the large group of works which Gotzkowsky had collected in the intervening period. As the war drew to a close in 1763, Gotzkowsky entered into a new scheme to invest in the acquisition of military stores (grain in particular) which had been left on the front by the withdrawing Russian troops. This venture proved disastrous; the grain had gone bad and prices had fallen anyway, leaving Gotzkowsky with no profits and a large debt to the Russian treasury. Catherine, acting through her diplomats V.S. Dolgoruky and M.I. Vorontsov, saw a solution to 'l'affaire Gotzkowski' in the purchase of the pictures assembled for Frederick the Great -- which also allowed her demonstrate to her Prussian counterpart that even in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, Russia had the financial resources which Prussia then lacked. In 1764, Gotzkowsky handed over to Dolgoruky 317 pictures, valued at 171,900 Reichstaler. His finances restored in some measure, Gotzkowsky went on to collect further pictures, possessing as many as 230 in his house in Berlin by 1766. He went bankrupt again in 1767, and wrote a lively autobiography, Geschichte eines patriotischen Kaufmanns, published in 1768 and 1769, in which he states that he had paid 180,000 Reichstaler of his debt to the Russian treasury in pictures.
By August 1764 the pictures were in Saint Petersburg in the care of the civil servant Betsky, and it was probably at this time that a list was composed by Jacob von Stählin (1709-1785), the polyglot scientist, musicologist, connoisseur and court intellectual who had been the tutor, between 1742 and 1745, and subsequently the librarian, of Catherine's husband, the future Tsar Peter III. Stählin is sometimes credited with nurturing Catherine's knowledge of the fine arts, and amongst his papers are inventories pertaining to many of her most important purchases of paintings. His list of Gotzkowsky's pictures, which remains in the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences (op. cit.), closely matches that which was probably composed on Gotzkowsky's instruction before the collection left Berlin (Specification, Staatsarchiv, Berlin, op. cit.). Although the number of pictures in the Gotzkowsky purchase is sometimes given as 225 in literature on the history of the Hermitage, both early lists enumerate 317 pictures, including 90 which are not described in any detail. In both manuscripts Flinck's An old man at a casement can be identified with an entry for one of the thirteen works listed as by Rembrandt, '1. alter Mann, der mit dem Kopf auf der linken hand ruht Extra fein gemahlt', with matching dimensions. The picture is listed under the non-sequential number 18, which may be Gotzkowsky's own inventory number. The qualification 'Extra fein gemahlt' ('extra fein gemahlt' ('extra finely painted') is reflected in the valuation of 600 Thalers, more than the twice the amount stipulated for each of a pair of portraits by Rembrandt of larger size (Specification, op. cit., no. 565).
We are grateful to Svetlana Borisovna Adaksina, Head Curator of the State Hermitage Museum, and her office, for confirming verbally that in the manuscript catalogue of the Imperial Collection compiled in 1797, the year after Catherine's death, An old man at a casement is listed under the inventory number 3654, with the dimensions recorded as 15.34 x 13.12 vershki, 68.2 x 58.3 cm. This inventory number is clearly visible in an old photograph of the picture, which carries the Bode certificate of 1928 on its verso (fig. 7). In the succinct, printed Notice sur les principaux tableaux du Musée Impérial de l'Ermitage à Saint-Pétersbourg of 1828, the picture may feature again in the list of works by Rembrandt in room no. 11, described as 'un rabbin juif qui se résigne à payer' (loc. cit.). Room 11, one of the more spacious rooms in early-nineteenth-century plans of the Winter Palace, was hung entirely with 39 works by (or thought to be by) Rembrandt, and was also Catherine's billiard room, containing a table for the game, another for a 'jeu de fortune' and an impressive, mechanised writing desk by Catherine's legendary ébéniste, Heinrich Gambs (Notice, op. cit., p. 54). As well as Flinck's An old man at a casement, these 39 works included Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son, the Flora of 1634, the Portrait of an Old Woman of 1654, Haman recognising his fate, Danae (all still Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum), The Incredulity of Thomas, Ahasuerus and Haman at the feast of Esther (both now Moscow, State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts), A Man in Oriental Costume and Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife (the latter now doubted as being by Rembreandt; both in Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art). At least four of these (The Incredulity, The feast of Esther, Man in Oriental Costume and Joseph and Potiphar's Wife), in addition to the present work and various portraits, had come from Gotzkowski. The room soon came to be called the 'Salle de Rembrandt', and by dint of Catherine's astute and well-advised purchases, presented the richest concentration of the work of Rembrandt and his school anywhere in the world in its day.
Given that for many decades (indeed, often well into the twentieth century), the best works of Rembrandt's pupils were regularly catalogued as being by their master, it is no surprise that the present work by Govaert Flinck was counted amongst the more than fifty works in the Imperial Collection given to Rembrandt in its first decades. By 1838 (see Livret, op. cit., p. 523), 41 were accepted as being by Rembrandt, while 16 had been reclassified as school pictures. It seems highly likely, given the cataloguing of the present work as Rembrandt, 'Extra fein gemahlt', in Gotzkowsky's list, that the signature and date were obscured by discoloured or degraded varnish or overpainting, which may also explain why the 1797 inventory number, brushed in red paint in the lower left-hand corner, was placed so close to the then-hidden location of the signature. The absence of any reference to the signature in Bode's 1928 certificate - where he describes the picture as an early work, in ignorance of the exact date indicated in the signature - suggests that the signature was not revealed until after 1928, but by the time of the 1932 exhibition. Interestingly, one other picture sold by Gotzkowsky to Catherine, the Man in Oriental Costume in Washington, is now hypothetically attributed to Flinck, or may represent a collaboration between Flinck and Rembrandt, pupil and teacher. For Gotzkowsky to have deliberately presented his Flincks as Rembrandts seems unlikely, as he had known to correctly attribute a large subject picture by Flinck, The Repudiation of Hagar, which was not amongst those that went to Russia (Staatliche Museen Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, inv. no. GG 815). It seems that he too formed his opinion on the basis of the present work's excellent, virtuosic execution and the apparent absence of a signature in attributing it to Rembrandt.
Where Gotzkowsky sourced his pictures is not always clear. The Feast of Esther now in Moscow is distinguished by an unbroken, fully documented provenance stretching back to Rembrandt's patron Jan Jacobsz. Hinlopen, and was bought by Gotzkowsky in the posthumous sale of the collection of Gerard Hoet in 1760, where he also acquired Joseph and Potiphar's Wife and other works by Rembrandt, invariably at high, hard-won prices. An old man at a casement does not appear in either of the first catalogues of Gotzkowsky's collection written by Matthias Oesterreich (1757 and 1759, respectively), and so must have been acquired by him in the period 1759-1763, probably at auction. Freiherr Bernhard von Köhne, the Hermitage Curator of Paintings who first rediscovered the story of the Gotzkowsky acquisition in the 1870s, was to write that upon receiving Frederick's commission to collect pictures in 1755, Gotzkowsky entered into an exchange of letters with 'fast ganz Europa', seeking out pictures in Italy, France and The Netherlands to purchase (Köhne, 'Berlin, Moskau, St. Petersburg, 1649 bis 1763. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der freundschaftlichen Beziehungen zwischen Brandenburg-Preußen und Rußland', Schriften des Vereins für die Geschichte der Stadt Berlin, Berlin, XX, 1882, p. 145, echoing Gotzkowsky's own words in his autobiographical Geschichte, op. cit., I, p. 20).
The exact way in which An old man at a casement left the Hermitage is difficult to establish. Franck and Schepkowski (2002 and 2009 respectively, loc. cit.), follow Gotzkowsky's descendant and biographer, Professor Bodo Gotzkowsky, in suggesting that the present work may have been amongst the 201 pictures sent to Moscow by Emperor Alexander II, Catherine's great-grandson, in 1862, as a gift to the newly founded Moscow Public and Rumyantsev Museums, the first major public art collection in the 'throne capital' of Russia. With The Appearance of Christ Before the People (1837-1857),the magnum opus of the leading Russian history painter Alexander Ivanov, also given by the Tsar, the 201 Hermitage works were intended to be the founding nucleus of a picture gallery in the newly-established Moscow museum in Pashkov House, the object of great local and national excitement. This generous donation, reported in the newspaper Moskovskie vedomosti (1861, no. 168, p. 1379; no. 177, p. 1421), set the example for further contributions from imperial, noble and private collections; it included at least one major masterpiece from Catherine's Room 11, Rembrandt's Feast of Esther,(the Hinlopen picture acquired by Gotzkowsky), and, according to Bodo Gotzkowsky (see Frank, op. cit., p. 182), at least one other work from the Gotzkowsky purchase, an Adoration of the Shepherds by Jacopo Bassano (untraced). The selection is said to have been made by the celebrated Dr. Waagen, who had visited the Hermitage in 1861, compiling his own catalogue of the collection which was to be published in 1864. It is not clear whether one of the pictures listed by Waagen as Rembrandt in that work, 'Ein männliches Portrait mit Schnautz- und Kinnbart, einer braunen Mütze und purpurrothem Mantel. Brustbild mit dunklem Grunde', could be understood to be the present work, still to be seen by him at the Hermitage in 1861; the dimensions are very plausible at 16 x 13¾ vershki, 71.2 x 61 cm. (G.F. Waagen, Die Gemldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg..., Munich, 1864, p. 182, no. 821.
Alternatively, and perhaps more plausibly, An old man at a casement may have been amongst the works sold by Catherine's grandson (Alexander II's father), Emperor Nicholas I, in an auction of Hermitage pictures on 6 June 1854. We are grateful to Victor Mikhailovich Faybisovich and Mikhail Olegovich Didinkin of the State Hermitage Museum for suggesting that it may have been lot 636 in that sale, as 'Flinck. Head of an old man', albeit catalogued with incorrect dimensions and citing the wrong number from the 1797 catalogue (3121). No copies of the auction catalogue are documented, but a Russian-language transcription (perhaps translated from French) was published by a later Curator of Paintings, Baron N.W. Wrangell, in 1913 (op. cit.). The vast sale, 1,218 lots in length, seems to have been catalogued very hastily, and inaccuracies of attribution and description abound. In his commentary to the transcription, Wrangell vociferously laments the sale, through which some significant masterpieces left the Hermitage collections. These included Lucas van Leyden's supremely rare Shield-Bearers (subsequently reacquired for the Hermitage at great expense, in 1885), Pieter Lastman's The Flight of Abraham, Natoire's Cupid and one of Catherine's most beloved paintings, Chardin's Still Life with Attributes of the Arts. All of these pictures remained in Russia and were purchased or otherwise returned to the Hermitage either before or after the Revolution.
The 1854 auction seems to have been brought about by a variety of factors, including lack of space for proper storage of the enormous collections; the dank condition of some of the existing Hermitage stores, which posed a risk to the safe conservation of the vast numbers of paintings accumulated by Catherine; pressures to raise money in the years of Russia's entanglement in the Crimean War (1853-1856); the personal interest taken by Nicholas I in the maintenance of the collection; and the example of similar deaccessional auctions held by museums in Continental Europe, such as that organized by the Pinakothek in Munich only two years earlier, in 1852. At the Hermitage, a committee of experts selected some 1,500 works for auction, of which Nicholas I vetoed almost 300, while the remaining 1,218 were entrusted to the commissaire Prevot in Saint Petersburg. In his magisterial history of the Hermitage (which begins with the Gotzkowsky purchase in 1764), Vladimir F. Levinson-Lessing, another Curator in the lineage of Köhne and Wrangell, notes that the decision to deaccession such important works may have been inadvertently caused by the 'dulled attentiveness' of the committee, tasked with reviewing thousands of the museum's pictures in a short space of time (XXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXX (1764-1917) [The History of the Picture Gallery of the Hermitage (1764-1917)], Leningrad, 1985, pp. 183-4).
If An old man at a casement did enter the Rumyantsev Museum in Moscow, it may be the picture listed vaguely as a Portrait of an old man by Rembrandt in nineteenth-century guidebooks to the collection, but a definitive identification has thus far proven impossible. The museum itself was dissolved following the Russian Revolution, and while some pictures, like The Feast of Esther,were sent to its successor, the State Puhskin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, others were dispersed or sold by the state in a process described by Tatiana N. Ignatovich, XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXX X XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXX X XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX [Paintings of the Rumyantsev Museum in public collections of paintings in Russia and neighbouring states], Moscow, 2009, pp. 41-3 and 318ff.The style of the monogrammed seal on the panel reverse, however, applied multiple times as though in an assertive, proud show of ownership, suggests that the picture may already have entered a private collection by circa 1860-1870. The monogram, which can be read either as the Latin initials 'XJ' or the Cyrillic initials 'XX' ['G. Kh.'], has not been conclusively identified.
It is possible that already by the time of the Russian Revolution the present picture had been acquired by the ancestors of the present owner. Wilhelm Friedrich Mertens, of Saint Petersburg, is known to have been a passionate collector of Dutch Old Master drawings and pictures, and the present picture may have been amongst his purchases. The Mertens family, of German origins, were established the Russian fur trade by Friedrich Ludwig Mertens (1812-1877/87); the business had a headquarters in Saint Petersburg, and branch offices in Nizhny Novgorod, Riga, Paris, London, Brussels, Leipzig and Berlin. In Saint Petersburg their offices were on the Nevsky Prospect, with a shop at no. 50 in the 1850s, and subsequently with a grander building, the F.L. Mertens Trade House, at no. 21, raised to four stories by A. Roben and subsequently completely rebuilt by the architect M.S. Lyalevich in 1911-1912. Lyalevich also built a family house on Kamenny Island (1, Zapadnaya Alley) in 1911 (fig. 9). Wilhelm Friedrich left Saint Petersburg with his family in 1917-1918 and settled back to Germany.