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Self-Portrait with a Lute: Sense of Hearing

Jan Steen (Leiden 1626 – 1679 Leiden)
ca. 1664
oil on canvas
23.8 x 19.3 cm
signed information

signed in dark paint, lower right corner: “JSteen” (“JS” in ligature)

inventory number
Currently on view: The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Kloek, Wouter. “Self-Portrait with a Lute: Sense of Hearing.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York. (accessed May 26, 2018).

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In this painting Jan Steen has portrayed himself dressed informally, laughing, and playing the lute. He wears a large gray coat, with ample room for his shirt sleeves, and red leggings. A songbook, to which he pays no attention, lies on a table at the left, which is the only piece of furniture to be seen. Although this small self-portrait is difficult to date, it is probable that Steen executed it in Haarlem around 1664. The definition of the face is comparable to that of the fool in The Rhetoricians in Brussels, which dates from the same period.

A comparison between the Leiden Collection painting and Self-Portrait Playing the Lute in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid (), painted around 1666–68, reveals two striking differences. First, in the Madrid painting Steen presents himself decked out in early sixteenth-century attire emphasizing the theatricality of the scene, whereas in the Leiden Collection work he is dressed in contemporary garb. Although Steen often posed in comic roles or addressed the viewer as a cynical commentator, there is not even a hint of self-mockery or foolish behavior in this piece. The second difference lies in the degree of the finish of the two works. Steen painted the Madrid Self-Portrait Playing the Lute quickly and skillfully, almost as though he conceived it as an oil sketch before working it up in more detail. However, Steen executed the Leiden Collection self-portrait with a great refinement, particularly noticeable in the elegant hands and at the ends of the lute’s strings. The gray area behind the head is characteristic of Steen’s manner of blocking in his forms before executing the final design.

The basis for identifying the subject as Steen is his formal Self-Portrait in the Rijksmuseum (), which must date from about 1670. Steen portrayed himself many times in his paintings, and the presence of the painter’s face must have been appealing for collectors, even in his own day. Although it is important to exercise caution when identifying self-portraits in Steen’s paintings, his presence here is indisputable.

This painting presumably belonged to a series depicting the five senses, as a representation of Hearing. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, portrayals of the five senses were popularized by series of prints by such artists as Cornelis Cort after Frans Floris (1561) and Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius (ca. 1595). Jan Steen made several series of the five senses. Four pieces from one such a series are preserved at Upton House, Banbury (National Trust). It was common for individual paintings from a five senses series to become dispersed over time, which is certainly the case in this instance.

- Wouter Kloek
  • Johannes Caudri, Amsterdam (his sale, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, 6 September 1809, no. 63 [for 40 florins to Spaan]).
  • J. B. Mettenbrinck, Amsterdam (his sale, Amsterdam, Roos, 16 April 1861, no. 36 [for 228 florins to Hollander]).
  • H. E. ten Cate, Almelo, by 1926.
  • [D. Katz, Dieren, by 1940].
  • From whom purchased by A. Hofer in 1940–41 [for 20,000 reichsmarks, according to his statement on oath]; Munich Collecting Point no. 41016, 3 January 1947; restituted to Holland on 27 January 1947, inv. no. SNK 1550 (sale, Amsterdam, Frederick Muller, 11 March 1952, no. 761 [2,500 guilders]).
  • John Lek, New York (his sale, New York, Parke Bernet, 29 November 1961, no. 14).
  • Dr. Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam, 1961.
  • Mrs. M. A. ten Haaf-Wetzlar, Groenekan (near Utrecht).
  • (Sale, Sotheby’s, London, 9 July 2008, no. 51; [Johnny van Haeften, London, 2008]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner.
  • Leiden, Stedelijk Museum, “Jan Steen,” 16 June–August 1926, no 75 [lent by H. E. ten Cate, Almelo].
  • Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Museum of Art, “Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries,” 12 October 2014–4 January 2015; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1 February–26 April 2015, no. 39 [lent by the present owner].
  • Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, “Vermeer Suite: Music in 17th-Century Dutch Painting,” 17 January–21 August 2016 [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].
  • 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, 1:235, no. 865b. 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.
  • De Jonge, Caroline Henriette. Jan Steen. Amsterdam, 1939, 47–48.
  • Braun, Karel. Alle Schilderijen van Jan Steen. Rotterdam, 1980, 178–79, no. B-257.
  • Jager, Maarten. Voorkeuren: een particuliere collectie. Utrecht, 1985, 64, no. 65.
  • Weller, Dennis P. Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries. Exh. cat. Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Museum of Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art. Raleigh, 2014, 200–03, no. 39.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt and His Time: China and the Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 10; 15, no. 55. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Self-Portrait with a Lute: Sense of Hearing.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 130–31; 185, no. 55. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China.  Beijing, 2017.
  • Wang, Jia. “Dutch Painting in Golden Age.” In Journal of National Museum of China 169, no. 8 (2017): 38.
  • 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, 140–41.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Self-Portrait with a Lute: Sense of Hearing.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 190–91; 244–45, no. 62. 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 single piece of fine, plain-weave fabric with tacking margins removed and paper tape along the edges, has been lined. Neither the warp or weft threads run parallel to the stretcher edges. Extremely broad cusping along the lower edge suggests the support was cut from a larger stretched fabric. There are two paper labels and two numerical inscriptions on the stretcher and two numerical inscriptions on the lining, but no wax seals, import stamps or stencils along the lining or stretcher.

A light-colored ground with a granular texture has been thinly and evenly applied. The paint has been applied with loose fluid brushstrokes in thin, smooth, glazes. Under magnification, the tops of the granular ground remain exposed.

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

The painting is signed in dark paint along the lower right corner, but is undated.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2009 and remains in a good state of preservation.

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