Cornelis' oeuvre of drawings is small: most are published by Dr. Pieter van Thiel, Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem as a Draughtsman, Master Drawings, New York, 1965, III, no. 2, pp. 123-54, pls. 1-15. The article describes twenty drawings, a figure that has since been reduced.
As Dr. van Thiel has kindly pointed out, the present lot is one of four known studies in oil on paper which are comparable in style, handling, subject and technique. An oil study in the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam (K.G. Boon, Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, The Hague, 1978, I, p. 52, no. 142, II, p. 59, fig. 142) is on two separate sheets, backed with linen. Boon (loc. cit.) describes the latter drawing as a 'memento' by Cornelis van Haarlem, while Van Thiel found that it is based on figures in the artist's picture of The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis dated 1624, .......................... . A second oil sketch, Two Studies of a seated Woman with her Companion, was also in the Schapiro collection. A third oil study was acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh in 1992 (Recent Acquisitions in Edinburgh Museums, The Burlington Magazine, 1993, CXXV, p. 599, no. VI, illustrated). The latter studies are based on the figure of Venus in Cornelis' picture Venus and Mars dated 1627, ............................... While the other figures cannot be directly linked to any known paintings, some are clearly related to Cornelis' oeuvre. The pose of the reclining female nude in the present lot is closely comparable to that of figures in three of Cornelis' pictures: The Garden of Love dated 1623 at Sans-Souci, Potsdam; Venus and Adonis dated 1625 at Castle Heino, Holland; and The Brevity of Life dated 1631, in the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa. Stylistically the present study is closest to the latter picture.
Some of the figures in the four oil sketches correspond with figures in pictures dated circa 1630. Van Thiel observes that these sketches in oil were most probably done after Cornelis' own pictures. These oil sketches are unlikely to have been used as preliminary studies for the artist's pictures, which would explain the unfilled spaces or details that some show. This is contrary to the use of oil studies by contemporary artists like Dirck Hals.
In a letter dated 29 October 1995 Van Thiel remains uncertain about a firm attribution of the four oil studies to Cornelis. He could have done them for his own future use, or in order to create a stock of images as study material for his pupils. On the other hand, the fact that such studies are only known from this late period in his career may indicate that one of his pupils did these after his pictures. It would seem unlikely that the master adopted this technique at this advanced stage in his career. However, in view of their quality, he comments that 'the studies are so well executed, that only a pupil able to imitate the technique and style of his master perfectly, could have made them. The problem is complicated by the fact that very little is known about Cornelis and his pupils, especially in that later period', and he cannot suggest a pupil to whom the studies could alternatively be attributed. Van Thiel knows only one study in oil on paper where he is certain that it is autograph, The Head of a raving Man dating from circa 1588-1592, last seen on the art market in 1967.
The inventory of Cornelis' workshop mentions two oil studies that could apply to works similar to the present lot ('two naked figures on paper by CH' and 'three naked figures by CH'). Together with the high quality of the present lot, and the other mentioned studies, this may confirm that the group indeed is part of Cornelis' oeuvre at a late stage in his career.