The Dutch Nabi artist Jan Verkade (1868-1946) left a small but exquisite oeuvre. Only rarely works from his hand appear on the market and most of them are small scale. This refined portrait of a girl is one of his best. The canvas has been removed from its stretcher and is pasted on a panel at an early date. Verkade painted it lightly with small vertical strokes that are enclosed in carefully drawn outlines. It is not so much the representation of an actual situation. Above all it seems to be the flat, carefully balanced pattern of beautiful shapes that interests the artist. The girl is represented against a backdrop of trees and elegantly undulating hills. The only shadow is on the girls chin and it is executed in green, in the Byzantine manner.
Jan Verkade did not only sign the painting at the bottom right, but also signed and dated the panel on the back: "Jan V. '93". Moreover there is an old label, perhaps an exhibition label on the back that specifies the title, "Herinnering" (Reminiscence) and the place where it was painted, Fiesole.
Indeed, Jan Verkade stayed in Italy from September 1892 until November 1893. He had first travelled to Florence with the Danish Nabi artist Mogens Ballin. There they discovered the Franciscan monastery in Fiesole. Ballin who was of Jewish descent was baptised there on the 2nd of January 1893 and Verkade who as a protestant had already been baptised in Saint-Nolff, Brittany the previous summer. In Fiesole, both were accepted in the third order of the Franciscans. In May 1893, Verkade would even start to live in the Fiesole monastery.
The girl on the painting wears the traditional costume of Saint-Nolff, however, that we know from many drawings that Verkade made there in the summer of '92. This implies that this painting must have been based on one of the drawings that Verkade made of Saint-Nolff girls. In his fascinating autobiography, Van Ongebondenheid en Heilige Banden [About Dissoluteness and Holy Ties] (1919), Verkade described how he lured many peasant girls into posing for him. He drew them in the bar room of the inn where he stayed. 'In the large empty bar-room soon hung rows of portraits of girls and children. Sunday before Mass there used to come and sit on the bench three, four young girls, of which I drew one. In the meantime peasants started to enter the room, looked at the portraits on the wall and were shaking with laughter when they recognised one of the portrayed. "That is Marie Perrine; that is Marie Anne; that is Marie Louise!", they cried. All girls of Saint-Nolff were called Marie. As a wage for posing everyone received a copy of her portrait. I kept the originals to myself.'
One of these originals must have been the source of the present painting. The title that he gave to the painting, 'Reminiscence', is a telling one in more than one respect. It indicates that the painting was done from memory and not from life. This was nothing unusual, since one of the tenets of pictorial symbolism, the style founded by Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard in 1888, was that working from memory was preferable to working from nature. Without model, the artist would be able to detach himself from observation and concentrate on the abstract, more permanent qualities of his art. Hence the stress on beautiful outline and composition in this portrait rather than on space and light. 'Reminiscence' also implies that the painter, then in Fiesole, was thinking back about the sweet period of Saint-Nolff, where he was converted to Catholicism. His vocation as a Franciscan perhaps made him realise that Brittany with its beautiful peasant girls was a paradise that was closed once and for all. Soon he was to confine himself almost exclusively to religious wall-paintings in an extremely severe style.
We kindly thank Dr. F. Leeman for his help in cataloguing this lot.