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Jacob Jordaens

Two Important trompe l’oeil wall decorations

Sold for 3.000.000 SEK at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale 7-10 June 2017.

1112. Jacob Jordaens (Flanders 1593‑1678).
A youth at a doorway doffing his hat as he enters with his dog followed by a young woman carrying a basket (I);
and a jester making fun at a balcony, with a young woman preening herself as an old man reads and a cat hisses below (II) – a set of two trompe l’oeil wall decorations.
Oil on relined canvas, 190.8 x 88.5 cm (each).

These striking paintings by the mature Jacob Jordaens were in the collection of the same Swedish family from circa 1922, until they were split between two branches of it around 1960. Reunited for the purpose of this sale, they have not been publicly exhibited together since 1910, a matter itself of some significance.

Both works are in excellent state of conservation, for which see the accompanying conservation report by Catherine van Herck dated March 2017, and impress immediately in the at once free and assured manner of their execution, so typical of Jordaens, happy to leave exposed the light grey Antwerp ground at the contours of reserves to show off broad fields of rich colour or passages of vivid brushwork.(1) In fact the fresh and lively handling belies Jordaens’s careful and methodical preparation. A drawing in the Albertina, Vienna of the youngsters at the doorway and the contours of the jester on the balcony show his initial thoughts, which he then elaborated in dark outlines on the canvas grounds (see illustration).(2)

Acceptably dated on stylistic grounds to the early 1640’s, Max Rooses, in his fundamental study of the artist, suggested that the present lots were painted as wall decorations for the enlarged townhouse Jordaens was able to form following his acquisition in 1639 of the Halle van Lier or Turnhoutse Halle on the Antwerp Hoogstraat that was adjacent to his existing home.(3) Records of building works in 1640/1 testify to this remodeling of the properties on a scale befitting his wealth and aspiration to follow Rubens’ earlier example on the Wapper.

The façade of the west wing of the resulting patrician style courtyard is dated 1641. By this time and following the deaths of Rubens and Van Dyck, Jordaens in mid career was the leading artist of Antwerp soon to confirm his international reputation.

Two cycles are known to have been executed by the artist as ceiling decorations for his mansion: first “The Signs of the Zodiac” and then “The Story of Cupid and Psyche” of 1652 embellished rooms on the ground floor of the south wing. The first was removed from the house prior to its sale in 1764 and was to be installed in the ceiling of the library of the French Senate in the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris (4); the second was removed from the Hoogstraat about a century later and is now in a private collection.(5)

The present two paintings had much earlier been removed from Antwerp as they appeared as lots 102 and 105 in the sale of Jordaens’s estate, which took place in The Hague in 1734 following the death of the widow of his grandson. Two other larger paintings, lots 103 and 104 – Gallerytje met een jong gezelschap and Een Dito met een moor en Vrouwe Beeld (A gallery with a company of youngsters and Another with a moor and a woman), long lost sight of, seemingly formed part of the same scheme which was obviously to be placed on a wall or walls, with the youth and young woman at ground floor level and the balcony and probably also the gallery scenes placed above. But no other evidence exists as to either whether the scheme originally consisted of these four panels alone, or as to where it was placed.

A drawing of the youngsters at the doorway and the contours of the jester
on the balcony in the Albertina museum, Vienna, inv. no. 8463r.

Jordaens’s idea for the present paintings was seemingly to suggest that the protagonists are members of his household, with the jester taking up the role of a caricature of one such. The youth coming into the door with his dog is thus, as Julius S. Held suggested, probably Jordaens’s son Jacob, born in 1625 (died young after 1650) while his daughter Elizabeth (1617-1678) and father-in-law Adam van Noort (1562-1641/42) were probably the models for the couple on the balcony. Both Elizabeth and Adam van Noort appear frequently in Jordaens compositions, notably in the numerous versions of “So d’ouden Songen Pypen de Jongen” and “The King drinks”, both of which subjects Jordaens took up in the later 1630s. (6)

The young woman at the doorway in the first painting, although not identified, is also seen placed centre stage by Jordaens in the portrait of his family of circa 1621 in which some twenty years earlier he announced his prominent membership of Antwerp’s prosperous bourgeoisie.(7) If indeed all figures were family members, then perhaps we might see in the jovially distorted face of the jester the artist himself, while the dog too may have been the family pet, as the artist drew it from life by its kennel on the reverse of the preparatory sheet (see illustration).

But perhaps too, the paintings can be connected with Jordaens lively interest in proverbs such as is evident from his designs for a series of tapestries and specificially in Jacob Cats’ Spiegel van den ouden ende nieuwen tijd, 1632, from which he had also taken the theme of Soo d’ouden songen pypen de jongen. The prominence of the dog and the cat are perhaps connected with two proverbs also treated by Jacob Cats’ volume, p. 12: Tale e la cagnuola, quale e la signora and Chi di Gatta nasce, sorci piglia (As the dog, is his master and All what comes from the cat, will be mice).

The blue draperies hanging from beams at the top confirm the works to be meant as merry visual tricks, since these devices relate to the story of the painterly competition between Zeuxis and Parrahsios, related by Plinius the Elder, Naturalis historiae, XXXV 65. This contest which was meant to establish the best painter of illusions in ancient Greece, was won by Parrahsios following his successful deceit of Zeuxis who had not recognized that the curtain which he was asked to open a curtain hung before a painting was in fact only painted. Zeuxis himself had only been able to deceive birds by painting a fictive bunch of grapes, at which they had come to pick.

Thus the visitor would have been confronted by a visual pun as he entered the room, although he would have searched in vain for the feigned presence of the mistress of the house, Jordaens’s wife Catharina (1589-1659), and would have perhaps been mildly disturbed by the presence of her father, who had been living with the family at the time but probably had just died when the present works were painted.

Two recent authorities on the artist, Michael Jaffė and Roger d’Hulst, have drawn attention to the similarity with the famous scenes frescoed by Paolo Veronese nearly a hundred years earlier in the interior of the Villa Barbaro at Maser near Vicenza. Indeed Veronese’s inventions of a huntsman and his dog at a doorway and of two women at a balcony suggest they were examples that Jordaens followed in these present paintings. He is known to have admired the work of the great Venetian, but is also renown for having eschewed a visit to Italy as a young man, nor are copies known of the frescoes which he could have seen. But unless such existed or that Jordaens relied on hearsay or that both artists depended on a source in common as yet undetected, the relationship between the two sets of works separated by time and place, unless fortuitous, remains as yet a mystery.

Jordaens’s authorship of these two paintings has never been doubted; they will be included in the catalogue raisonné by Michel Ceuterick, Gregory Martin and Brecht Van Oppen of Jordaens’s paintings in preparation.

1. Catherine van Herck has recently undertaken some conservation works, consisting of some surface cleaning and fixation of loose paint. Her report is available to the buyer.
2. Albertina, Vienna, inv. no. 8463. See R. d’Hulst, Jordaens Drawings, 1974, I, no. A 180. The drawing is a double sheet and is in black and red chalk, with pen and brown ink and brown and grey wash. It measures 307 x 394 mm. A copy of the front is in Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; see d’Hulst, op. cit, no. C 25, fig 503.
3. See for the history of the Jordaens premises R.J. Thijs, Rubens en Jordaens. Barok in eigen huis, 1986, pp. 263 – 355.
4. See  R.J. Thijs, op. cit. pp. 298 – 300; and N. de Poorter, Jacob Jordaens, exhibition catalogue Antwerp, 1993, under cat. nos A 84/6 and A. Hustin, Les Jordaens du Senat. Les Signes du Zodiac, in: L’Art, LXIII, 1904, pp. 35/42.
5. See R.J. Thijs, op. cit. pp. 286/90, with ills; and N. de Poorter, op. cit, cat. nos. A 84/6, with ills.
6. The earliest interpretation of “Soo d’ouden songen pypen de jongen” is the painting of 1638, 128 x 192 cm, in the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, Antwerp. See R.A. d’Hulst et.al., op. cit, 1993, no. A 55, followed by the interpretations in Valenciennes and Ottawa, see R.A. d’Hulst, op. cit, no A 56, with ill, ad fig A55A.
7. Circa 1621, 181 x 187 cm, Prado, Madrid.
8. See K. Nelson, Jacob Jordaens. Designs for Tapestry, 1998, pp. 103/18, nos 26/33, with ills.

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