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“Self-Portrait” in Fanciful Dress

Frans van Mieris (Leiden 1635 – 1681 Leiden)
date
ca. 1667
medium
oil on oval panel
dimensions
11 x 8.2 cm
inventory number
FM-123
Print

Buvelot, Quentin. ““Self-Portrait” in Fanciful Dress” (2020). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. https://theleidencollection.com/artwork/self-portrait-in-fanciful-dress/ (accessed October 21, 2020).

In “Self-Portrait” in Fanciful Dress, Frans van Mieris indulged himself to the fullest with colorful, imaginary clothing elements, particularly his red velvet beret with white ostrich feather and the multicolored scarf knotted behind his head that holds the feather in place. A loosely pleated white linen shirt and a black jerkin with slashed openings are visible beneath the fur-trimmed robe around his shoulders. The pearl earring dangling from his ear reinforces the exotic nature of this wardrobe, which was unlike attire worn in the Dutch Republic. The same distinctive combination of headgear—red velvet beret, colored scarf, and feather—appears in Van Mieris’s Man in Oriental Dress, 1665, in the Mauritshuis, where the figure, appropriately, stands next to a column before a foreign, mountainous landscape ().

As is characteristic for this Leiden fijnschilder (“fine painter”), Van Mieris applied the paint thinly and smoothly in this small oval panel painting while, at the same time, varying his strokes to model the face, fur, and jerkin. Judging from the extremely fine elaboration of the details, Van Mieris intended this small treasure to be seen closely, and without doubt, art lovers would have held this painting in their hands to admire its outstanding technique. They would have equally admired the lively, scrunched-up expression of the middle-aged, mustached subject, who looks as though he is reacting to something slightly unappealing.

Whether Van Mieris’s main interest was to express a certain emotion or to show a figure in fanciful dress, the sitter’s features clearly resemble those of the artist himself. However, this small painting, despite its title, is not a self-portrait, but rather an expressive character study known as a tronie. “Self-Portrait” in Fanciful Dress is closely related to another Van Mieris tronie in The Leiden Collection, “Self-Portrait” with a Plumed Beret (), where the artist, wearing a similar red velvet beret and colored scarf, expresses surprise. Van Mieris learned the art of making tronies in Leiden from his teacher, Gerrit Dou (1613–75), as well as from Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), who did more than any other artist to popularize tronies in his paintings and prints (). For modern-day viewers, the distinction between tronies and self-portraits can be difficult to discern, but seventeenth-century inventories often make a clear division. One has to remember that the word self-portrait only came into use in the nineteenth century; if one wished to speak of a Rembrandt self-portrait, one described it as “Rembrandt’s likeness done by himself” or “the portrait of Rembrandt painted by himself.”

That this painting was recognized as a tronie can be deduced from the inventories of its early owners, among them Jan van Beuningen (1667–1720), a man of standing in the art world and a banker and merchant in the Baltic, and Pieter de la Court van der Voort (1664–1739), an extremely wealthy cloth merchant and a famous collector who had a penchant for works by the Leiden fijnschilders. De la Court van der Voort assembled a large body of works by Dou and Van Mieris in his house on Rapenburg 26 in Leiden. In a 1731 inventory of his collection, the little painting by Van Mieris is mentioned for the first time as “Een Persiaantje met een tulbant” (A little Persian with a turban). After Allard de la Court van der Voort (1677–1755) inherited the panel from his father, it was listed in his 1749 inventory as “An oval being a Persian or Turkish figure with a Turban on the head.” In 1766, the painting was sold at public auction from the collection of his widow, Catharina Backer (1689–1766), again as “A Persian.”

Van Mieris’s painting was soon acquired by the famous Leipzig banker Gottfried Winckler (1731–95), who included it in the extensive catalogue of his collection published in 1768. Johann Friedrich Bause (1738–1814) made an engraving after Van Mieris’s painting when it was in Leipzig, giving it the title Der Persianer (The Persian). Jean-François-André Duval (1776–1854) from Saint Petersburg subsequently acquired Van Mieris’s painting from one of Winckler’s heirs. When it was in his collection, Ignaz Sebastian Klauber (1753–1817), or one of his studio assistants, made a reproductive engraving after the painting from a drawing by Pavel Nikolaivich Michailoff (1786–1840) (). Although Klauber’s engraving appeared in the 1846 catalogue of Duval’s collection, by that time Duval had already sold the collection to Napoleon III’s half-brother, Charles-August-Louis-Joseph (1811–65), Duc de Morny, who lived in Paris, but who dispersed many of his newly acquired paintings in London.

Van Mieris’s painting seems to have remained in England until 1903, when the German-Jewish banker Max Steinthal (1850–1940), famous for financing Berlin’s metropolitan railway, acquired it. Wilhelm von Bode (1845–1929), director of the Berlin museums, advised Steinthal and his wife and probably recommended the purchase of this panel. In 1935, the Nazis forced Max Steinthal to resign from the Deutsche Bank, and the collection that he and his wife had formed was confiscated—a fate this painting escaped. The couple’s daughter, Eva Steinthal, had always kept this small panel; she sold it at auction in 2012. Prior to that time, its appearance was only known through the two early nineteenth-century engravings. Although recent examinations have found no trace of a signature or date on the panel, old sources indicate that it once bore a date of 1667, which is entirely consistent with the artist’s style at that period of his career. Two early copies of Van Mieris’s tronie—one can be tentatively attributed to Willem van Mieris (1662–1747), the artist’s son ()—indicate that this painting had a certain renown during and after his lifetime. After The Leiden Collection acquired this wonderful little gem in 2017, it found a home among many paintings by Van Mieris and other Leiden fine painters.

- Quentin Buvelot, 2020
  • Jan van Beuningen (1667–1720), Amsterdam (to Pieter de la Court van der Voort for 120 florins).
  • Pieter de la Court van der Voort (1664–1739), Leiden, before 1731; by descent to Catherina Backer, his son’s widow (her sale, Leiden, 8 September 1766, no. 23 [to H. de Winter for 470 florins]).
  • Gottfried Winckler (1731–95), Leipzig, by 1768.
  • François Jean-André (François) Duval (1776­–1854), Saint Petersburg and Geneva, by 1812 (to Charles de Morny).
  • Charles Auguste Louis Joseph (Charles) de Morny (1811–65), Duke of Morny, Paris, 1845 (“Duval” sale, Phillips, London, 12 May 1846, no. 42 [for £525]).
  • Private collection (sale, London, Christie’s, 21 February 1903, no. 80 [to Schroeder for £38]).
  • Max Steinthal (1850–1940), Berlin, by 1909; and by descent to the Steinthal Community of Heirs (sale, Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 2012, no. 6 [to Johnny Van Haeften, Ltd.])
  • [Johnny Van Haeften, Ltd., London]
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2017.
  • Berlin, Königliche Kunstakademie, “Ausstellung von Bildnissen des fünfzehnten bis achtzehnten Jahrhunderts aus dem Privatbesitz der Mitglieder des Vereins,” 31 March–30 April 1909, no. 84 [lent by Max Steinthal].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017, no. 40 [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, no. 40 [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–22 July 2018, no. 36 [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, no. 36 [lent by the present owner].
  • Possibly Von Uffenbach, Zacharias Conrad. Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland. Ulm, 1754, 3: 421.
  • Kreuchauf, Franz Wilhelm. Historische Erklærungen der Gemælde, welche Herr Gottfried Winkler in Leipzig gesammlet. Leipzig, 1768, 174, no. 432.
  • Hoet, Gerard, and Pieter Terwesten. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van jaaren zoo. The Hague, 1770, 3: 545–46, no. 23.
  • Moes, Ernst Wilhelm. Iconographia Batava: Beredeneerde lijst van geschilderde en gebeeldhouwde portretten van Noord-Nederlanders in vorige eeuwen. Amsterdam, 1905, 2: 103, no. 31.
  • Königliche Kunstakademie. Illustrierter Katalog der Ausstellung von Bildnissen des fünfzehnten bis achtzehnten Jahrhunderts aus dem Privatbesitz der Mitglieder des Vereins. 3rd revised edition. Berlin, 1909, 15, no. 84.
  • Kurth, Willy. Die Kunst im Hause Steinthal. 18891914. Berlin, 1914, plate IV, no. 4; no. 15 (as in the manner of Ary de Vois).
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Nach dem Muster von John Smith’s Catalogue Raisonné. Stuttgart, 1928, 10: 64­–65, no. 240 (as a self-portrait).
  • Van Hall, Hendrick. Portretten van Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars. Amsterdam, 1963,  211, no. 7 (as a self-portrait).
  • Naumann, Otto. Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) The Elder. Doornspijk, 1981, 1: 72, 126n205, 207; 2: 84, no. 70.
  • Fock, Cornelia Willemijn. “Willem van Mieris en zijn mecenas Pieter de la Court van der Voort.” Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 2 (1983): 280n14.
  • Hecht, Peter. De Hollandse fijnschilders: Van Gerard Dou tot Adriaen van der Werff. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1989, 88, fig. 15a.
  • Lunsingh Scheurleer, Theodoor Hermann, Cornelia Willemijn Fock, and A.J. van Dissel. Het Rapenburg: Geschiedenis van een Leidse gracht. Leiden, 1992, 6a: 351, 353, fig. 50.
  • Buvelot, Quentin, and Otto Naumann. “List of Frans van Mieris’ Paintings and Drawings.” In Frans van Mieris 1635–1681. Edited by Quentin Buvelot, 235, no. 70. Exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art. Zwolle, 2005.
  • 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, 114, no. 40.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Tronie Self-Portrait of the Artist, Bust-Length, Wearing a Turban Crowned with a Feather, and Fur-Trimmed Robe.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt. Translated by Li Ying, 101; 181, no. 40. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina, 17, 29. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Tronie Self-Portrait of the Artist, Bust-Length, Wearing a Turban Crowned with a Feather, and Fur-Trimmed Robe.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina, 138–39; 238, no. 36. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The oval-shaped panel has been cut from a single piece of vertically grained wood; the verso of the panel’s circumference is entirely beveled. The panel has three red-wax seals on the verso, each with discernible markings.

A thin, light-colored ground has been evenly applied across the entire panel, although only portions of the composition were covered with a gray-brown imprimatura layer. The overlying paint has been applied thinly and smoothly, with transparent glazes applied to the dark background, red turban, and fur lining of the costume. Two curious parallel strokes of paint are visible in the black and white portion of the sitter’s costume near the lower section of the picture. They may have been intentional even though they resemble accidental swipes through wet paint. The artist deftly modelled the opaque flesh tones while allowing the gray-brown imprimatura to remain in reserve. In other areas, this imprimatura layer was used to create mid-tones between lighter passages and shadows.

Minor, scattered retouching can be seen throughout the picture, with the largest loss located along the proper, right edge. Overall the paint, ground, and varnish layers are stable and in good condition.

Versions

  1. Attributed to Willem van Mieris, after Frans van Mieris the Elder, A Man in Oriental Costume, oil on oval copper, 12.9 x 10.3 cm, Private Collection, Belgium, 2019.
  2. After Frans van Mieris the Elder, oil on oval copper, dimensions unknown, Private Collection, Sèvres, France, 2019.

Prints

  1. Johann Friedrich Bause (1738–1814), after Frans van Mieris the Elder, Der Persianer, 1769, etching and engraving, 270 x 191 mm, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, inv. no. JFBause V 3.258a.
  2. Ignaz Sebastian Klauber (1753–1817) and/or studio, after a drawing by Pavel Nikolaivich Michailoff (1786­–1840), after Frans van Mieris the Elder, Man in Persian Dress, in or after 1812, engraving, 112 x 84 mm, RKD – The Netherlands Institute of Art, The Hague, inv. no. BD/0676.
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