Collection of the Late Commandant Paul Louis Weiller
Petronella Buys sat to Rembrandt in early 1635 along with her husband Philips Lucasz. (d. 1641) whose corresponding portrait is in the National Gallery, London (fig. 1). The couple had met a few years earlier in Batavia (the former name of Jakarta, capital of Indonesia) where Philip was based with the Dutch East India Company, rising to become Commissioner Extraordinary of the Indies in 1631. Petronella had travelled there in 1629 with her sister Maria Odilia Buys and her husband Jacques Specx (1588/9-1652) who was himself in the service of the V.O.C. In 1633 Philips commanded a trading fleet on its return journey to the Netherlands bringing Petronella with him and they married shortly after their arrival back in Holland on 4 August 1634 at The Hague. They returned together to the East Indies less than a year later on 2 May 1635, their marriage commemorated ad infinitum by the portraits they left behind. Petronella was widowed six years later when Philips died of a fever on 5 March 1641 on board his ship, the Santvoort, while commanding an expedition to Ceylon. She immediately returned to the Netherlands and made a home on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. In 1646 she married her second husband Joan Cardon in Vlissingen and died there in 1670.
This portrait and its pendant were first documented in the collection of Petronella’s brother-in-law Jacques Specx in an inventory drawn up after his death in 1653. Specx was an important early patron of Rembrandt and the same inventory lists three other paintings by the artist, each major early religious works: Saint Paul in Prison, 1627 (Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie); The Abduction of Europa, 1632 (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum); and Saint Peter’s Boat, probably Christ on the Sea of Galilee 1633 (Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; missing, stolen). Given Specx’s close association with Rembrandt and the fact that he owned the pair already during Petronella’s lifetime and left them to his own heir, it has been deduced that Specx commissioned them himself (see Corpus, III, p. 181, under no. 115). On his death, they were inherited by his daughter Maria (1636-1704) who was married to Bartolomeus de Gruyter of Utrecht. Nothing is known about their whereabouts during the eighteenth century, but by 1820 the two pictures had become separated from each other and it wasn’t until 1913 that they were again recognised as a pair. An old inscription on the back of the present work (now indecipherable), which not only identified the sitter as Petronella Buys, but also implied there was a companion portrait of her husband, was discovered by Hofstede de Groot, who found in the National Gallery picture a portrait that corresponded, not only in terms of shape, size and support, but also in composition, style and obviously date. He also noted that the gold chain worn by Philips (echoed by that worn by Petronella) alluded to his role in the East India Company, as they used to make gifts of this kind to commanders of its returning convoys when they docked safely. Hofstede de Groot’s identification has never been questioned.
While the status of the pair of portraits was never doubted by Rembrandt scholars for over a century, the Rembrandt Research Project suggested in 1989 that substantial parts of both pictures had been delegated by Rembrandt to an assistant, thereby opening a debate as to the possibility and extent of studio participation in them and, more generally, Rembrandt’s working practice during one of the busiest and most prolific phases of his career. Petronella came in for particularly harsh criticism based on Bob Haak’s examination of the picture in 1971 ‘under moderate lighting, in the frame and on the wall’ (Professor Ernst van der Wetering, though cited as being party to that inspection, has recently confirmed that he has never seen the picture before). Haak claimed that the same assistant he thought was responsible for the collar and clothing in the National Gallery portrait was responsible for the female portrait in its entirety. Neither Haak, nor any members of the Project, had the benefit of seeing the pair alongside each other in the flesh, nor can they have been helped in their judgement by the lack of any decent photographic record of the picture; an old grainy black and white photograph is all that has been available until now. Comparison between the two pictures, which has been conducted at the National Gallery in the past and again in recent months, counters any claim of a discrepancy or ‘difference in execution’ between the two portraits. On the contrary, notwithstanding the slightly better state of preservation of the London picture, the two are entirely compatible in terms of style and execution. This led the scholars in 2006 to refute altogether the claim of studio participation in either work: ‘Both paintings in their entirety appear to be by Rembrandt. Any weaknesses in the paintings can be paralleled in other portraits from these hectic years of portrait painting in Amsterdam and explained by the speed at which these and other portraits were painted’ (loc. cit.).
The years between 1631 and 1635, usually referred to as ‘Rembrandt’s first Amsterdam period’, was a time of incredibly intensive activity for the artist. Operating out of the Amsterdam workshop of Hendrick Uylenburgh, Rembrandt quickly cornered the market in portraiture using his experience as a history painter to produce portraits that were much livelier and more dynamic portraits than those of his rivals. Rembrandt produced approximately 65 extant portraits during these years, far more than at any other stage of his career, largely it seems for financial reasons so that he could set himself up independently. The majority of these portraits, as in this case, were conceived as pendant pairs. As was the custom in any portrait studio, he may have occasionally used others to assist him to varying degrees, at different times, and the possibility of studio intervention with this portrait - and indeed most others from this period - will always be a subject of debate.
It should be stressed that while portraiture provided Rembrandt with a healthy income during this period, his artistic energy was primarily focused on highly ambitious, ground-breaking history paintings. Indeed in the year 1635 alone he produced an astonishing number of signal masterpieces in quick succession, including the Sacrifice of Isaac (St. Petersburg, Hermitage), Ganymede (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), Minerva (Leiden Collection), Flora and Belshazzar’s Feast (both London, National Gallery). Given this extraordinary activity it is hardly surprising to observe the apparent rapidity with which the present portrait was painted. Rembrandt clearly took certain shortcuts with the execution, working in a hurry also perhaps because the picture had to be finished before Petronella set sail back to Batavia at the beginning of May 1635. The blacks in her costume have largely been blocked in, giving a vague sense of the pattern of the cloth, but little suggestion of texture and form. The strands of her gold chain have also been painted in an abbreviated manner, as if applied as an afterthought over her black dress to echo the chain worn by her husband. The painting of her ruff, made up of broad sweeps of white and grey paint with pastose highlights, while quickly applied, is remarkably effective, each of the folds individually delineated giving a tangible sense of volume and lightness. In the lower registers of the lace, rather than painting the individual lace pattern over her black dress, it has been laid in with black detailing painted on top, very much in the same way as Lucasz.’s collar is rendered in the pendant. The reflected light from the ruff is beautifully picked up in the shadowed part of the face and along the jawline. The painting of the flesh, though paler and more delicately applied, is markedly similar to the pendant. A variety of colours are blended wet into wet to form the main part of the face, with the use of raised brushwork for the lighter areas, such as in the forehead, while the shadows are smoother and seem to recede.
Working under time pressure to complete a commission, the same question posed in the 2006 catalogue concerning the National Gallery picture can also be applied to Petronella, as to whether Rembrandt would have resorted to assistants for the costume or simply speeded up his painting process. There is no question that Rembrandt painted finer and more controlled costumes in other portraits, but that does not necessarily exclude his authorship of both parts. In the 2006 exhibition catalogue the conclusion was drawn that flourishes in Lucasz.’s costume were still beyond the capability of a pedestrian assistant and that Rembrandt had employed a kind of ‘brilliant shorthand’ in the picture, evidence of ‘a great painter working at speed’.
During the first Amsterdam period Rembrandt frequently used oval format panels for his portraits, particularly pendant pairs, such as in this example. However, it has been suggested that the shape of Petronella and the pendant is not original and that they have both been cut down from rectangles, perhaps early on, at some stage in the seventeenth century. There is substantive evidence in the London picture to suggest this. The panel has straight bevelling on the back and sides as one would expect in a rectangular panel. Furthermore an X-ray image of Lucasz. reveals that an early stage of the composition included his left hand, apparently touching the gold chain across this chest, a feature that would not sit well within an oval. It is thought that the panel must have been cut early on because there are scraps of seventeenth century paper still attached to its reverse. There is also an idea that the gilt frame is contemporary with the painting. The case for Petronella is not so clear-cut. Both pictures are painted on thick, single oak panels (this panel has been planed and cradled) so their heights cannot have been much greater. An X-ray of Petronella reveals no alterations to a composition which seems designed with an oval specifically in mind (see fig. 2). Her form is actually constructed using a series of prominent oval lines: the gold chain which echoes exactly the shape of the bottom of the panel, her ruff which forms a distinct oval horizontally across the centre, and the lace headdress whose contour follows the cut of the top of the panel. The possibility that the Lucasz. panel was adapted during painting and that the shape of the present panel is original has not been suggested before, but does not seem inconceivable.
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Collection of the Late Commandant Paul Louis Weiller
Portrait of Petronella Buys (1610-1670), bust-length, in a brocaded black gown, bobin lace-trimmed double cartwheel ruff and pearled diadem cap
signed and dated 'Rembrandt· f: / 1635·' (lower left)
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Leiden 1606-1669 Amsterdam)
Listed in the posthumous inventory of the sitter's brother-in-law, Jacques Specx, 13 January 1653, with the pendant Portrait of Philips Lucasz., nos. 17 and 18.
Listed with the Portrait of Philips Lucasz. in papers relating to the division of Jacques Specx's estate, 31 August 1655, as '2 d.o [contrefeijsels] van den Hr Placa salr. en sijn huijsvrouw ao 1635 door rembrant'.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminient Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, London, 1836, VII, p. 160, no. 497, as 'Rembrandt'.
W. Bode, Studien zur Geschichte der hollandischen Malereri, Braunschweig, 1883, pp. 405 and 587, no. 216, as 'Rembrandt'.
E. Dutuit, L'oeuvre complet de Rembrandt, Paris, 1883, p. 45, as ‘Rembrandt’.
A. von Wurzbach, Rembrandt, Stuttgart, 1886, p. 62, no. 200, as 'Rembrandt'.
E. Michel, Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time, New York, 1894, II, p. 236, as 'Rembrandt'.
W. Bode and C. Hofstede de Groot, The Complete Work of Rembrandt, Paris, 1897, II, pp. 11, 115 and 116, no. 118, as ‘Rembrandt’.
J. Veth, ‘Rembrantiana’, L’Art flamande et hollandaise, October 1906, no. 118, illustrated, as 'Rembrandt'.
W.R. Valentiner, Rembrandt: Der Meister Gemälde (Klassiker der Kunst), Berlin, 1908, p. 206, illustrated, as 'Rembrandt'.
A. Rosenberg, Rembrandt: Des Mesiters Gemälde, Stuttgart and Berlin, 1909, pp. 206 and 555, illustrated, as 'Rembrandt'.
C. Hofstede de Groot, 'Rembrandts portretten van Philips Lucasse en Petronella Buys', Oud Holland, XXXI, no. 4, 1913, pp. 236-240, as ‘Rembrandt’.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, London, 1916, VI, pp. 315-6, no. 661, as ‘Rembrandt’.
D.S. Meldrum, Rembrandt’s Paintings with an essay on his life and work, New York, 1923, no. 107, as 'Rembrandt'.
O. Benesch, Rembrandt Werk und Forschung, Vienna, 1935, pp. 19-20, as 'Rembrandt'.
A. Bredius (ed.), The Paintings of Rembrandt, Vienna and London, 1936, under ‘Notes’, p. 14, no. 349, as ‘Rembrandt’.
W. Stechow, Dutch landscape painting of the seventeenth century, Rhode Island, 1938, as 'Rembrandt'.
P.A. Voren Kamp, ‘Mastepieces of Dutch Painting’, Art News, 10 December 1938, pl. 349.
A.M. Frankfurter, ’17 Pictures of the XVII Centuy’, Art News, 4 February 1938, p. 10, illustrated.
L.H. van Eeghen, ‘De Portretten van Philips Lucas en Petronella Buys’, Maandblad Amstelodamum, 43, 1956, pp. 144-6.
N. MacLaren, National Gallery Catalogues: The Dutch School, London, 1960, pp. 325-6, under no. 850.
C.R. Marx, Rembrandt, Paris, 1960, pp. 167-8, fig. 48.
K. Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde, Berlin, 1966, no. 486, as ‘Rembrandt’.
A. Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by H. Gerson, London, 1969, pp. 274 and 577, no. 349, as ‘Rembrandt’.
The National Gallery: Illustrated General Catalogue, London, 1973, p. 600, under no. 850.
W. Strauss and M. van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents, New York, 1979, pp. 296-7, no. 1653/54 and pp. 327-8, no. 1655/5, illustrated p. 329.
G. Schwartz, Rembrandt: his life, his paintings, London and New York, 1985, pp. 101, 162 and 164, no. 163.
The National Gallery: Illustrated General Catalogue, 2nd revised edition, London, 1986, under no. 850.
N. MacLaren and C. Brown, National Gallery Catalogues: The Dutch School 1600-1900, London, 1991, I, pp. 344-6, under no. 850, fig. 80, as 'an assistant of Rembrandt'.
C. Tümpel, Rembrandt - All paintings in colour, Antwerp, 1993, no. 237, as ‘Rembrandt’.
L.J. Slatkes, Rembrandt: catalogo completo dei dipinti, Florence, 1992, no. 135, as ‘Rembrandt’.
D. Bomford, J. Kirby, A. Roy, A. Rüger and R. White, Art in the Making: Rembrandt, London, 2006, pp. 82, 84 and 88, note 2, fig. 56.
E. van de Wetering et. al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, III, Dordrecht, Boston and London, 1989, pp. 31, 34, 181-2 and 695-8, no. C111; VI, 2015, pp. 217 and 544, no. 132b, illustrated, as 'seems to be entirely painted by an assistant [of Rembrandt]'.
(Probably) Commissioned by the sitter's brother-in-law, Jacques Specx (1588/89-1652), by 1635, and by descent to his daughter,
Maria de Gruijter, née Specx (1636-1704), Amsterdam.
Anonymous sale; C. S. Roos, Amsterdam, 28 August 1820, lot 85 (180 florins to Engelberts).
Christiaan Everhard Vaillant (1746-1829) or Jacobus Sargenton; (†), J. de Vries, Amsterdam, 19 April 1830, lot 74 (550 florins to Roos).
Adrian Hope; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 30 June 1894, lot 56 (1,300 gns. to Weilheim).
with C. Sedelmeyer, Paris, 1898.
with Knoedler, New York.
Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905), New York.
with A. Preyer, The Hague.
with F. Kleinberger, Paris.
August Cornelius de Ridder (1837-1911), Schönberg, near Cronberg, Frankfurt-am-Main.
Michel van Gelder, Château Zeecrabbe, Uccle, Brussels, by 1914.
with D. Katz, Amsterdam, 1948.
André Mayer, New York, by 1970; Sotheby's, New York, 23 October 1980, lot 12.
with Wildenstein, London and New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.