We are grateful to Dr. Birgit Schumacher for confirming that this picture depicting The Annuciation to the Shepherds is the prime version of the composition, which has, until now, been better known through the copy in the Dresden Gemäldegalerie. Schumacher has revised her previous judgment of the picture which was based on an old photograph (loc. cit.), noting the evident quality of this panel and observing that 'the breastfeeding mother is clearly a typical and very well painted Wouwerman figure' (private correspondence, on the basis of photographs). She furthermore comments that most of the copies after this picture follow the same composition and size, underlining the popularity of this particular composition, which she dates to around 1648. She will be including this painting as number A563A in her catalogue of authentic paintings.
Philips Wouwerman was the most talented and successful 17th century Dutch painter of horses, depicting them with consummate skill in battle scenes, landscapes, hunting scenes, smithies, stables and even in his rare religious scenes, such as in the present lot, which is as much a study in the effect of light and shadow as a skilful interpretation of a well-known story. The dramatic arrival of the Archangel is greeted with surprise and joy by the shepherds in the background of the picture, whilst in the centre of the picture, huddled under a makeshift awning, a peasant family settle down for the night, unaware of the momentous event taking place around them. According to Cornelis de Bie, Wouwerman came from a family of artists and apparently trained with Frans Hals, although there is little evidence of Hals' influence in Wouwerman's output. He became a vinder (agent or 'finder') of the guild of St. Luke in 1646, and in 1645 and 1647 he is recorded as buying houses in Haarlem. This evident prosperity and success continued throughout his short life (he died at the age of 42), and when his widow died, each of his seven children inherited a substantial sum of money. The monogram 'PHILS W' accords with the form his signature took after 1646.