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Portrait of a Lady

Frans van Mieris (Leiden 1635 – 1681 Leiden)
oil on panel with arched top
23 x 17 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint on lowest stair riser, lower left corner:  “F van Mieris. 1673”

inventory number

Buvelot, Quentin. “Portrait of a Lady” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed July 13, 2024).

The trend toward stylization of Frans van Mieris’s later genre paintings is also apparent in his late portraits, among them this colorful Portrait of a Lady. In this well-preserved panel from 1673, a lady stands in an interior and gazes out at the viewer as she gracefully rests her right hand on her left wrist. She wears large, decorative silver earrings and a ring on the little finger of her left hand. The woman is dressed in the latest fashion, with the gold-thread braiding of her fine satin dress also incorporated into her hair. Her dark velvet shawl helps set off the smooth skin of her pale arms and hands.

The décor of the room is sparse but elegant. Hanging above a chair at the right is a mirror, which appears to show the reflection of a curtain hanging over a window. The simple black frame of the mirror is decorated at the top by a flourish of blue and pink ribbons, and at the bottom we see a small white object. Behind the woman is a small flight of steps, where Van Mieris inscribed his signature and the date of the painting. An arched doorway at the top of the landing leads to a room furnished with a table covered by an expensive Persian rug. On the wall of this back room, partly obscured by the doorframe, is a small ornamental rack with twisted upright supports topped by decorative knobs. Two large silver vessels are displayed on its bottom shelf.

Van Mieris painted this stunning portrait as a pendant to one depicting the woman’s husband. The signature on this pendant is incorporated in a rather conspicuous manner, as Van Mieris added the monogram “FvM” to the piece of paper in the man’s hands but left out the date altogether (). A wooden sphere on the handrail on which the man’s elbow rests probably denotes the virtuousness of the sitter, who is shown in a fairly relaxed pose as he gazes toward his wife. His jacket with the large red obi is a so-called Japonsche rock, which was worn only inside the house. Like his fancy collar, it was the height of contemporary fashion and very expensive, demonstrating both his wealth and cultured demeanor.

In many seventeenth-century portraits of couples, the man is depicted on the left side of the painting and the woman on the right, in accordance with heraldic tradition, but Van Mieris did not follow this custom with these pendants. As in his pendant portraits from 1669 (FM-110.a and 110.b), Van Mieris linked the two works together through the man’s gaze, which is directed at his wife. He also mirrored compositional elements within the arch-shaped panels, including a staircase into a back room and a large black frame hanging near the sitter.

Although the identity of this couple is now unknown, we can glean some information about the sitters from the paintings. The woman’s clothing and precious earrings, which Van Mieris has rendered with such meticulous care, reflect the couple’s prosperity. The black frame in the husband’s portrait contains a map of a fortified city with the inscription “Smyrne,” suggesting that he had trading relations with Smyrna (now called Izmir), the ancient port city of present-day Turkey. Unfortunately, provenance information fails to shed any light on the couple’s identity, as by the time these paintings first appeared in the art market the names of the sitters had been lost. In fact, at some point the two paintings actually ended up in different collections. The Amsterdam collector Nicolaas Nieuhoff (1733–76) is the earliest known owner of the woman’s portrait. It says a great deal about Van Mieris’s reputation in the eighteenth century that his portrait of a woman fetched 700 guilders at the sale of the Nieuhoff Collection, whereas Vermeer’s now much-loved Woman Holding a Balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) was sold for the considerably lesser sum of 235 guilders.

- Quentin Buvelot, 2017
  • Nicolaas Nieuhoff, Amsterdam, before 1776 (his sale, Amsterdam, 14–17 April 1777, no. 121 [Yver for f 700]).
  • [Pieter Yver, Amsterdam].
  • Jan Tak, Leiden (his sale, Zoeterwoude, 5 September 1781, no. 10 [Nijman for f 475]).
  • Jan Danser Nijman, Amsterdam [not in his sale, Amsterdam, 16 August 1797].
  • Chevalier François Xavier de Burtin, before 1818 (his sale, Brussels, 21 July 1819, no. 103 [f 3,000]).
  • Baron Anthony Nathan Rothschild, London, by 1842–76; by descent to his daughter, Annie Yorke, born Rothschild, London, 1876–1926 (her sale, Christie’s, London, 6 May 1927, no. 34).
  • [Edouard Jonas, Paris, 1929].
  • Mrs. Joseph Heine, formerly Mrs. I. D. Levy, New York (her sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 24–25 November 1944, no. 242).
  • Private collection, California (sale, Christie’s, New York, 31 May 1990, no. 148).
  • [Galerie Sankt Lucas, Vienna, 1990–91; Johnny van Haeften, London, 1992; Otto Naumann Ltd., 1993].
  • Dr. Hinrich Bischoff, Berlin.
  • [Johnny van Haeften Ltd., London, 2004].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • London, Johnny van Haeften Ltd., “Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings,” 1992, no. 20.
  • The Hague, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, “Frans van Mieris 1635–1681: Painted Perfection,” 1 October 2005–22 January 2006, no. 44 [lent by the present owner].
  • Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, “Amorous Intrigues and Painterly Refinement: The Art of Frans van Mieris,” 26 February–21 May 2006, no. 44 [lent by the present owner].
  • 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].
  • Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre,” 14 February–18 May 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Smith, John.  A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829–42, 1:72–73, no. 41; suppl., 1842, 9:51, no. 56.
  • 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, 10: 87, no. 323. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28.
  • Naumann, Otto. Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. 2 vols. Doornspijk, 1981, 1:139–40; 2:105, no. 94.
  • Naumann, Otto. “Frans van Mieris d. Ä.” In Galerie Sanct Lucas. Sales cat. Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, 1990–91, no. 12.
  • Naumann, Otto. “Frans van Mieris the Elder.” In Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings. Sales cat. Johnny van Haeften, Ltd. London, 1992, no. 20.
  • Mai, Ekkehard, ed. Das Kabinett des Sammlers: Gemälde vom XV. bis XVIII. Jahrhundert. Cologne, 1993, 180–82, no. 72.
  • Debaisieux, François. Caen Musée des Beaux-Arts: Peintures des écoles étrangères. Caen, 1994, 260.
  • Naumann, Otto, ed. Inaugural Exhibition of Old Master Paintings. Exh. cat. New York, Otto Naumann, Ltd. Turin, 1995, “Paintings Sold in the Past”, n.p., under “1993.”
  • Buvelot, Quentin, Otto Naumann, and Eddy de Jongh. Frans van Mieris 1635–1681. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, 41, 197–99, 230, no. 44, 236, no. 94. Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis; Washington, National Gallery of Art. Zwolle, 2005.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of a Lady.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 98; 188, no. 35. 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, 106–7.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of a Lady.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 142–43; 239, no. 38. 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.
  • Blanc, Jan. “Being Modern, Being Dutch: The Seventeenth-Century Invention of the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 43. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Ducos, Blaise, and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019, 145, no. 67. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]

The support is a single plank of horizontally grained but vertically oriented rectangular-shaped oak with an arched upper edge. The unthinned and uncradled panel has bevels around all four edges. The panel reverse has one red wax collection seal, a stencil, and four old paper labels but no import stamps, panel maker’s marks or machine tool marks.

A light brown ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by a light gray underlayer. The paint has been applied in successive thin layers with low brushmarking and transparent glazing, and the contours of the forms are slightly raised. The black and gold ribbon and the lace along the edge of the figure’s proper right sleeve are extremely finely rendered, and the white apron is sheer enough so that the underlying mauve jacket and blue skirt show through.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint on the lowest stair riser along the lower left corner.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. The X-radiograph suggests a slight change in position of the thumb of the figure’s proper left hand, and a diagonal line visible in raking light above the figure’s head may relate to an earlier form.

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

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