Skip to main content

Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace

Jacobus Vrel (Active 1654 – 1662)
ca. 1654–56
oil on panel
57.3 x 47.7 cm
inventory number

Van Tuinen, Ilona. “Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. (accessed August 01, 2021).

This peaceful domestic scene depicts an older woman seated on a wooden chair in a sober interior, her head leaning against a large, white pillow propped up against a tall fireplace. A cat and a small dog curled up in front of the hearth comfortably enjoy the warmth emitted by its smoldering flames. To the right of the brown-and-tan tiled fireplace hangs a shovel suspended from a hook, and on the floor nearby are tongs, a dark terra cotta pot, and a foot warmer. Resting on the wooden hood of the fireplace are simple, white, earthenware plates decorated with delicate blue designs, two brass candlesticks, and a single orange. Suspended from hooks attached to the bottom of the wooden hood, from which also hangs a dark cloth skirting, is a small ornamental candleholder, symmetrically flanked by metal vessels. The empty chair on the right reinforces the quiet, solitary character of this woman’s life.

In 1935, Clotilde Brière-Misme identified this painting as the “sick woman sitting by a Dutch fireplace” recorded in the 1659 inventory of the art collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (1614–62), governor to the Spanish Netherlands at the court in Brussels from 1647–56. Indeed, the pillow and the woman’s half-open eyes and slightly raised eyebrows do suggest that she is unwell. In the inventory this work is described as being a pendant to Jacobus Vrel’s painting of a “woman looking out of a window” (). The scene in the latter painting, which is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, is situated in a similar room with an identical fireplace. Dated 1654, it is Vrel’s earliest extant dated work. Brière-Misme’s hypothesis has been generally accepted even though the vertical dimensions of Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace are substantially less than those of Woman Looking Out of a Window. Brière-Misme postulated that the two paintings once had identical dimensions and that Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace had subsequently been cut at the top.

Technical analysis has confirmed Brière-Misme’s hypothesis. The absence of a bevel along the top edge of the panel, as well as the small chips along this edge, indicate that the panel was cut. The painting’s earlier appearance is seen in a photograph taken in 1928, when it was with art dealer Van Diemen & Co in Berlin (). At that time the painting was about nine centimeters taller, the size difference between it and Woman Looking Out of a Window. Moreover, the versos of the Vienna and the Leiden Collection panels are remarkably similar in appearance, indicating that the panels were made by the same craftsman around the same time ().

Even if the Leiden Collection and Vienna paintings were considered to be pendants when they were in the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, there is no proof that Vrel originally intended them as a pair. There are no other known examples in his oeuvre of pendant paintings. It is not known either how the works entered that collection, whether separately or together, or whether they came through the initiative of the archduke’s curator in Brussels, David Teniers the Younger (1610–90). Nevertheless, whether or not they were conceived as pendants, these two paintings complement each other in the ways they evoke the solitude of human life ().

Several old references record that the painting was once signed and dated on a piece of paper attached to the nail on the fireplace, yet no trace of this paper remains today. It is likely, however, that Vrel executed this work around 1654, the year in which its purported pendant was created, and certainly before 1656, the year in which Leopold Wilhelm’s term as governor of the Spanish Netherlands in Brussels ended and he returned to Vienna. If this date is correct, this painting and the panel in Vienna, Vrel’s earliest known dated work, were executed several years before Pieter de Hooch began painting his interior genre scenes. As Peter Sutton has suggested, Vrel seems to have “anticipated Delft artists’ interest in domestic themes.” It is therefore frustrating that Vrel’s origins and training remain a mystery. None of the simple and inexpensive objects, including the blue and white earthenware displayed on the fireplace mantle, ubiquitous throughout Europe, has shed any light on the region in which this enigmatic artist resided.

- Ilona van Tuinen, 2017
  • Probably Leopold Wilhelm, Archduke of Austria, by 1659 (as pendant to the 1654 Woman Looking Out of a Window in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, inv. 6081).
  • Probably Emperor Joseph II, Vienna, by 1781; sold in Budapest in 1856.
  • [Van Diemen & Co, Berlin, ca. 1928; Galerie Dr. Schaeffer, Berlin, by 1929–at least 1932].
  • Dr. Liebermann, Berlin, by 1935.
  • Mrs M. van Es-Dirksen, The Hague, by 1936.
  • Private collection, the Netherlands (sale, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 18 May 2004, no. 14; [Johnny van Haeften, Ltd., London]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2005.
  • Berlin, Galerie Dr. Schaeffer, “Die Meister des Holländischen Interieurs,” April–May 1929, no. 105 [lent by Galerie Dr. Schaeffer, Berlin].
  • The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, “Oude Kunst uit Haagsch Bezit,” 12 December 1936–31 January 1937, no. 206 [lent by Mrs. M. van Es-Dirksen, The Hague].
  • 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].
  • Berger, Adolf. “Inventar de Kunstsammlungen des Erzherzogs Leopold Wilhelm von Österreich.” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 1, part 2 (1883): CL, no. 739.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. “Dutch Genre Painters in the Manner of Pieter de Hooch. Jacobus Vrel.” Art in America 17, no. 2 (1929): 88, fig. 3.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Pieter de Hooch. Stuttgart, 1929, 203.
  • Galerie Dr. Schaeffer. Die Meister des Holländischen Interieurs. Exh. cat. Berlin, Galerie Dr. Schaeffer. Berlin, 1929, 35, no. 105.
  • Scharf, Alfred. “Die Meister des Holländischen Interieurs.” Der Cicerone 21 (April 1929): 225.
  • Brière-Misme, Clotilde. “Un ‘Intimiste’ hollandais, Jacob Vrel.” Revue de l’Art Ancien et Moderne 68 (June–December 1935): 165, 167, fig. 12.
  • Gemeentemuseum. Oude Kunst uit Haagsch Bezit. Exh. cat. The Hague, Gemeentemuseum. The Hague, 1937, 47, no. 206.
  • Sutton, Peter C. “Woman at a Window.” In Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Edited by Peter C. Sutton. Exh. cat. Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen; London, Royal Academy of Arts. Philadelphia, 1984, 353, under no. 123, fig. 2.
  • Honig, Elizabeth. “Looking in(to) Jacob Vrel.” Yale Journal of Criticism 3, no. 1 (1989): 49.
  • Buvelot, Quentin. “Jacobus Vrel: Woman at a Window, Waving at a Girl, c. 1650.” In A Choice Collection: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Paintings from the Frits Lugt Collection. Edited by Quentin Buvelot and Hans Buijs, 224, no. 5. Exh. cat. The Hague, Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis. Zwolle, 2002.
  • Gruber, Gerlinde. “Das Bilderverzeichnis der Pressburger Burg von 1781: Ein Beitrag zur Sammlungsgeschichte der Gemäldegalerie des Kunsthistorischen Museums.” Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien 8, no. 9 (2006–2007): 378, no. 106.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 136–7; 186, no. 58. 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, 136–37.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Interior with a Sick Woman by a Fireplace.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina, 76–77; 232, no. 5. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Buvelot, Quentin, Bernd Ebert, and Cécile Tainturier, eds. Jacobus Vrel: Searching for Clues to an Enigmatic Artist. With a catalogue raisonné. Munich, 2021, 190, 225–226, no. 38.
  • Tainturier, Cécile. “In Search of Jacobus Vrel. The Reception of the Artist and his Work from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day.” In Jacobus Vrel: Searching for Clues to an Enigmatic Artist. With a catalogue raisonné. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, Bernd Ebert, and Cécile Tainturier, 24. Munich, 2021.
  • Klein, Peter. “The Dendrochronological Analysis of Panel Paintings by Jacobus Vrel.” In Jacobus Vrel: Searching for Clues to an Enigmatic Artist. With a catalogue raisonné. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, Bernd Ebert, and Cécile Tainturier, 130, 133. Munich, 2021.

The support, a rectangular composite panel comprising two vertically grained oak planks of similar widths, has a small triangular wood insert along the lower right corner. The panel is unthinned and uncradled, has machine tool marks on both planks and a bevel along the center of the lower edge only. Short vertical chips across the width of the upper edge reverse suggests it may have been trimmed. There are embossed initials, a black stencil, two numerical inscriptions, and four paper labels, but no wax collection seals or import stamps.

A light-colored, radio-opaque ground appears to have been applied as a paste with a palette knife. The paint has been applied smoothly in thin layers of transparent glazing with no use of impasto through much of the composition, which allows the light-colored ground to show through along the figure’s white apron, wooden floor, and fireplace tiles.

The painting is unsigned and undated.

Infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers suggest there may be a line underdrawing along the figure’s garment folds and the pillow. Further investigation with wavelengths that penetrate further into the infrared region may reveal a more extensive underdrawing. A compositional change visible in the images and as a pentimento suggests the pillow the figure leans against was reduced in size along the upper and left sides. A long, narrow, slightly curved, diagonal form, which extends from the hearth to the top of the figure’s head, may relate to the ground application or indicate an additional compositional change.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

Scroll back to top