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Smoker Seated at a Table

Gabriel Metsu (Leiden 1629 – 1667 Amsterdam)
date
ca. 1654–57
medium
oil on copper
dimensions
22.4 x 18.8 cm
signed information

signed in dark paint along background, upper left corner:  “G.Metsùe”

inventory number
GM-111
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Print

Waiboer, Adriaan. “Smoker Seated at a Table.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed December 13, 2018).

This page is available on the site’s Archive. PDF of every version of this page is available on the Archive, and the Archive is managed by a permanent URL. Archival copies will never be deleted. New versions are added only when a substantive change to the narrative occurs.

Gabriel Metsu used almost exclusively canvas supports during his early years in Leiden, but preferred small oak panels during his mature career in Amsterdam. Only once did he choose a copper support, in 1654–57, when he painted Smoker Seated at a Table. The smooth surface of this relatively soft but durable metal allowed him to employ a more meticulous technique than in his earlier paintings. Indeed, Smoker Seated at a Table marks a significant step in Metsu’s artistic evolution during his first years in Amsterdam, at which time he gradually abandoned the fluid brushwork characteristic of Jan Baptist Weenix (1621–60/61) in favor of the more refined and softer technique of Gerrit Dou (1613–75). Although Metsu’s technique here does not match the delicacy of Dou’s manner of painting or that of his own highly finished paintings from later in his career, Smoker Seated at a Table reflects his deliberate move towards “fine” painting in the Leiden manner. Metsu painted in this way either to meet an existing demand for “fine” paintings in Amsterdam or to create a market for such works on his own accord.

The painting represents a middle-aged bearded man who sits at a table enjoying a smoke. He holds his pipe upside down to light the tobacco by dipping it into the burning coals in an earthenware brazier. The small black board with an arched top in the left background indicates that the setting is a tavern. Innkeepers and serving staff used such slate panels to tally their customers’ drinks, as can be seen in the background of Metsu’s A Woman Offering a Glass of Wine to a Man (). The smoker who, to judge from his woolen suit and round hat, is a farmer, has already been served his beer in a white tankard that rests on his table. He looks out at the viewer with a brazen yet sympathetic gaze, not unlike that of the bearded figure in Public Notary (GM-101), which Metsu had completed a few years earlier.

The present painting belongs to a long tradition of Dutch and Flemish images of men drinking and smoking in a tavern—paintings commonly seen in collectors’ homes, the shops of art dealers, and the workshops of other painters. Metsu depicted this subject no less than five times, the most renowned of which is An Old Man Holding a Pipe and a Jug from the mid-1650s (). Metsu’s depictions of older men and women engaged in their individual activities owes much to Dou, who had featured elderly people in many of his early paintings. Unlike other of Metsu’s works, however, neither the composition nor the male figure in this painting has a precedent in Dou’s works. In fact, the man’s facial features do not even reappear in other paintings by Metsu, which raises the possibility that Smoker Seated at a Table is a genre-like portrait.

The coloration of Smoker Seated at a Table relates closely to Metsu’s other early Amsterdam paintings, among them A Woman with a Jug and a Man with a Pipe (). During this period of his career Metsu characteristically set off flesh tones, whites and areas of bright color, often bluish-greens or orange-reds, against a gray background. In A Woman with a Jug and a Man with a Pipe, the woman’s apron is the single coloristic focal point, whereas in Smoker Seated at a Table it is the rim of the man’s hat. Metsu’s sensitivity toward color is evident in the way he has here modulated the gray tonality of the painting with the browns of the earthenware brazier, the wooden table, and the upholstery of the chair.

Smoker Seated at a Table includes a number of objects that appear in some of Metsu’s other paintings. The table, for example, is seen in several later works, including A Man Offering a Glass of Wine to a Woman, which Metsu completed in 1667, the last year of his life. It is likely that the artist owned this piece of furniture. The same is probably true for the earthenware brazier and the white jug. Although the same chimney does not feature in other paintings, it does resemble those in other of Metsu’s early Amsterdam works, including A Woman with a Jug and a Man with a Pipe.

Metsu signed Smoker Seated at a Table in the top left corner with an unusual signature: G.Metsùe. The artist generally inscribed his name GMetsu or Gmetsu (G and m in ligature), but he added an E to his name in eleven extant works. Most of these date from the last few years of his life. What may have prompted him to vary his signature is unknown. Some of the artist’s distant family members are also known to have signed their name Metsue. It should be noted that consistency in spelling was not as important in the seventeenth century as it is today, and people often wrote their names in different ways.

- Adriaan Waiboer
2017
  • Count de Dubarry (his sale, Pierre Rémy and P. le Brun, Paris, 21 November 1774, no. 33 [to Le Brun for 240 francs]).
  • De Ghendt (his sale, Basan and Guilleaumon, Paris, 15 November 1779, no. 73 [to Langlier for 300 francs]);
  • Gustaf Adolf Sparre (1746–94), Sahlgren-Sparre Palace, Gothenburg or Kulla Gunnarstorp, near Helsingborg; by descent to his widow, Elisabeth Sofia Amalia Beata Sparre (née Ramel), Kulla Gunnarstorp, died 1830; by descent to her grandson Gustaf Adolf de la Gardie (1800–33); by descent to his father Jacob Gustaf de la Gardie (1768–1842).
  • Count Carl de Geer af Leufstra (1781–1861), (who purchased Kulla Gunnarstorp in 1837 and the entire Sparre collection by ca. 1840); by descent to his granddaughter, 1855, and moved, with the entire collection, to her house at Vänas, Knislinge, Southern Sweden.
  • Count Carl-Axel Wachtmeister (1921–2011), Vänas, Knislinge.
  • (Sale, Christie’s London, 14 December 1990, no. 122, bought in; sale, Christie’s London, 13  December 1991, no. 43, bought in).
  • (Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 2007, no. 8; [Johnny van Haeften, London, 2007]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Stockholm, Bukowski, “Äldre mästares taflor ur Svenska privatsamlingar,” May–June 1884,” no. 109 [lent by Count Wachtmeister, Vanås].
  • Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, “Holländska Mästare I Svensk Ägo,” 3 March–30 April 1967, no. 99 [lent by Count Wachtmeister, Vanås].
  • Kristianstad, Kristianstads Museum, “Ur Gustav Adolf Sparres konstsamling på Wanås,” 12 February–6 March 1977, no. 26 [lent by Count Wachtmeister, Vanås].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Göthe, Georg. Tafvelsamlingen på Wanås. Stockholm, 1895, no. 41.
  • Granberg, Olof. Catalogue raisonné de tableaux anciens inconnus jusqu’ici dans les collections privées de la Suede. Stockholm, 1886, 23, no. 39.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and translated by Edward G. Hawke. 8 vols. London, 1907–28, 1:318–19, no. 201. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–18.
  • Granberg, Olof. Inventaire général des trésors d’art: Peintures & sculptures, principalement de maîtres étrangers (non Scandinaves). 3 vols. Stockholm, 1911–13, 1:82, no. 375; 2: fig. 21.
  • Gudlaugsson, Sturla J. “Kanttekeningen bij de ontwikkeling van Metsu.” Oud-Holland 83 (1968):
  • 26 n. 28.
  • Kjellberg, Sven T. Slott och herresäten i Sverige. 18 vols. Malmö, 1966–71, 3:344, ill. opposite 336, 340.
  • Hasselgren, Ingmar. Konstsamlaren Gustaf Adolf Sparre, 1746–1794: Hans studieresa, vaaning och konstsamling i Goeteborg. Goeteborg, 1974, 117, 127, 180.
  • Robinson, Franklin W. Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667): A Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age. New York, 1974, 48, fig. 111.
  • Waiboer, Adriaan E. “Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667), Life and Work.” 4 vols. PhD diss. New York University, 2007, 1:108–9, 408, no. A-18, 4:1067.
  • Waiboer, Adriaan E. Gabriel Metsu, Life and Work: A Catalogue Raisonné.. New Haven and London, 2012, 40, 179, no. A-26.
  • McCarthy, Alexa. “Smoker Seated at a Table.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 114; 183, no. 47. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 160.
  • McCarthy, Alexa. “Smoker Seated at a Table.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 122–23; 237, no. 28. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, a rectangular, rolled sheet of copper, has substantial weight and does not flex when handled.  There are no indentations or undulation and the support remains perfectly in plane. There are two layers of oxidation products, a continuous brown layer and mottled black spots. There are six labels and one black stencil but no wax collection seals or maker’s marks.

A light gray ground has been thinly and evenly applied. The figure’s face was laid in with a free underpaint, which remains exposed along the corners of the eye and nose, followed by delicately blended final paint built up with fine strokes.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. The images and a pentimento indicate the top of the figure’s hat was made taller and altered during the paint stage to create two diagonal angles and a less rounded shape.

The painting is signed in dark paint along the background in the upper left corner but is undated.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2008 and remains in a good state of preservation.

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