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Portrait of an Elegant Woman

Willem van Mieris (Leiden 1662 – 1747 Leiden)
oil on oval panel
19.5 x 15 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint, lower right quadrant: “W. V. Mieris. Fe= Anno. 1708.”

inventory number

Aono, Junko. “Pendant Portraits of an Elegant Couple, 1708” (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 May 28, 2024).

The couple in these two oval portraits represents the height of fashion in the early eighteenth century, both elegant and refined. The man wears a stylish long wig, a white blouse and a brown jacket with a golden buckle, and he has gracefully draped a gray velvet mantle around his body. Holding his right hand before his chest, he looks affectionately toward his wife. She responds to her husband’s gaze by turning her head slightly in his direction, though she looks directly at the viewer. She wears a white blouse and a green satin dress adorned with a golden fringe and jewelry, and she gently holds a golden-brown shawl to cover her left shoulder. Her dark brown hair is elegantly coiffured, with a long, flowing lock falling over her right shoulder onto her décolleté, a style of dress derived from French fashions that had transformed the wardrobes of wealthy citizens in the Dutch Republic by the early eighteenth century.

Although the identity of the couple remains unknown, the pair clearly belonged to the affluent elite who were able to commission portraits from Willem van Mieris, an artist who had already established an outstanding reputation for himself. Van Mieris had excelled in portrait painting from the earliest years of his career, representing stolid Dutch burghers in their domestic environments, as in his pendant portraits purported to represent Samuel van Acker and his wife (WM-106.a–b), but over time his style evolved to a more flowing manner to reflect the changing social and cultural character of the Netherlands. In the small bust-length pendant portraits discussed here, Van Mieris depicted his sitters in an oval format, thereby focusing his entire attention on the figures and their elegant appearance. His refined painterly technique is particularly evident in the minute rendering of textures, such as the soft curled hair, the pleats of the thin white blouse, the beautifully draped shawls, and the golden jewelry with precious stones. The sitters’ elegant poses and gestures, characteristic of this master at this period of his career, reflect the period’s dominant classicizing style.

This type of portrait pair usually hung together with images of relatives and ancestors, as was the case with two oval portraits that Van Mieris made for his patron Allard de la Court and his wife, Catharina Backer. Those pendants hung together with 26 other family portraits in the dining room of the couple’s home. Such portraits were sometimes inherited by descendants and remained within the family, but many were dispersed over the centuries and can no longer be identified with known sitters, a fate also shared by the present works.

Provenance research has recently clarified the complete history of their ownership since the nineteenth century. The red wax seals affixed to the back of both panels, which contain a monogram consisting of the letters C, V, and L (), have been identified with the collector Christophe van Loo from Ghent. He purchased both portraits at the auction of the collection of Count Philippe Vilain XIIII of Brussels, held in Paris in 1857, and they were later sold at the Van Loo sale in Paris in 1881. Remarkably, the auction catalogues of 1857 and 1881 describe the couple as Willem van Mieris and his wife. This identification, however, is far from convincing. The couple hardly looks old enough to be 46 and 45 years old, respectively, the ages of the artist and his wife in 1708, the year these portraits were painted.

- Junko Aono, 2017
  • Count Philippe Vilain XIIII, Brussels (his sale, Paris, 2 May 1857, nos. 43, 44 [respectively 760 and 850 francs to Van Loo]).
  • Christophe van Loo, Ghent (his sale, Paris, 25 May 1881, nos. 15, 16 [respectively 1,920 and 1,600 francs to F. Hérard]).
  • Flury Hérard (his sale, Paris, 18 November 1919, nos. 55, 56).
  • Monsieur G… (his sale, Drouot, Paris, 8 February 1939, nos. 47, 48).
  • Private collection, Paris; and by descent (sale, Christie’s, Paris, 22 June 2005, no. 42 [to Salomon Lilian B.V., Amsterdam]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2005.
  • 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: 197, nos. 347 and 348. 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.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, oval-shaped, non-Baltic oak, has a wide horizontal bevel across the midpoint of the lower edge, a vertical bevel along the right edge, and short bevels that form facets along the remainder of the oval. The unthinned and uncradled panel has a brown radio-opaque coating that obscures the reverse, although there do not appear to be machine tool marks. There are no import stamps or panel maker’s marks, but there is one red wax seal with  a “CVL” monogram within an oval, presumably that of Count Philippe Vilain XIIII, which is identical to one of the two red wax seals on the companion portrait of a man WM-103.a.    

 A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by a warm brown underlayer not present in the pendant portraitWM-103.a. The underlayer remains exposed along the panel edges and where the figure’s proper left shoulder meets the background, to the left of the signature. The paint has been applied smoothly in successive thin layers of transparent glazing, with slightly raised contours along the figure’s facial features and hands and the drapery folds.  

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint along the lower right quadrant.

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

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