Although on display for much of the nineteenth century in one of the grandest London town houses, and listed by Mrs Jameson, William Hazlitt and Gustav Waagen as by Rubens, the present Holy Family in a Landscape is apparently not mentioned by Max Rooses in his fundamental, catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Rubens that appeared in five volumes between 1886-92. Subsequently mentioned only once in the literature on Rubens, the picture has received no public attention until the present sale.
The painting combines two themes connected with the Holy Family. Rubens treated the Madonna expressing her milk to the Christ Child only once in a composition, the best version of which is that at Potsdam (M. Jaffé, Rubens Catalogo Completo, 1989, no. 280); a fair number of studio replicas are known. Perhaps about the same time - the middle of the third decade - Rubens turned to the motif of the Infant St John, accompanied by St. Elizabeth, adoring the Christ Child (Jaffé, no. 284). However the handling of the present picture reflects Rubens's manner in the 1630s and most probably the painting dates from the last decade of the artist's life.
Whether the present painting was executed in Rubens's studio after his design must remain an open question. While the handling is closely reminiscent of Rubens, there is apparently no extant, autograph modello (a sketch is recorded in a Parke Bernet sale of 6 November 1947, lot 37). Another version of the composition is recorded (not listed in the catalogue of 1990) as in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. This might suggest that the studio had Rubens's authority to execute larger paintings from his design. The identity of the artist working there in Rubens's style is not known; a possible candidate is Jan Thomas van Yperen (1617-1673), who became a master in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1639/40 having been a pupil of Rubens according to Cornelis de Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet of 1661 (M.L. Hairs, Dans le Sillage de Rubens, 1977, pp. 188-190).
The 2nd Duke of Sutherland was the son of George Granville Leveson-Gower, who was created Duke of Sutherland shortly before his death. He was one of the greatest British landowners and collectors of his generation, being described as 'a leviathan of wealth'. The 3rd Duke's second marriage and his will caused a legal dispute which was one of the great scandals of the age and seriously damaged the great wealth of the family. Jospeh Duveen, who bought the picture from the 4th Duke was the leading art dealer of his generation, famous for his association with Bernard Berenson, and also a benefactor to the arts in England. The American George Jay Gould, to whom he sold the picture, was one of the most flamboyant business man of his era. He had an exotic life style living in a mansion in New York on Fifth Avenue and a country estate, Georgian Court, with its own golf course in Lakewood New Jersey.