GALLERIES/Daxer & Marschall
PROVENANCE:Friedrich Krupp Jr., Bonn, 1894;
Cologne, J. M. Heberle (H. Lempertz' Söhne), Die Gemälde-Galerie des Herrn Friedrich Krupp Jr., October 29-30, 1894, lot 117 (as Frans van Mieris);
Marianne Hochuli (Budapest 1922 - 2018 Texas), Houston, Texas.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und Kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts, X, Stuttgart 1928, p. 16, no. 58 (as Frans van Mieris);
Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris the Elder 1635-81, II, Doornspijk 1981, p. 131, no. B11.
FURTHER INFORMATION:The Golden Age of seventeenth-century Dutch painting went hand in hand with rapid economic expansion, coupled with growing scientific advancement. The Smoker and the Shrimp Seller was painted in Leiden, then the second-largest city in Holland and an important centre of trade, textile manufacturing, science and the arts.
The present oil is ostensibly a genre painting depicting an everyday scene and drawing on close observation of the visible world, but it is discreetly allegorical in its narrative. A wealthy young man sits in the garden of a villa smoking a pipe and enjoying a glass of wine. He is evidently searching in his pocket for money to pay an elderly shrimp seller. The painter's meticulous depiction of fabrics and surfaces immediately catches the viewer's eye and the highly finished techniques leave no doubt as to his artistic skills. But the painting also contains a disguised moral message - an invitation to the educated contemporary viewer to interpret a number of carefully placed clues among the familiar, realistically depicted everyday objects on the table. This deployment of 'apparent realism', combined with moralistic intent, is very characteristic of Dutch Golden Age painting.
The figure of the young man, possibly a student, can be seen as an allegory of the biblical prodigal son - wasting his inheritance on a dissolute, pleasure-loving lifestyle. The shrimps the elderly man is about to sell him will purportedly improve his virility, the long pipe has a phallic implication and the wineglass, a roemer, is associated with intemperance. Connotations like these needed little interpretation to Dutch seventeenth-century viewers accustomed to the comforts of affluence. References such as these greatly contributed to the popularity of genre painting in the Puritan moral climate of the Dutch Golden Age.
The whereabouts of the present painting was unknown for decades. On the basis of a black-and-white photograph taken in 1894 it was long considered to be a work by Frans van Mieris the Elder. Recent cleaning has revealed Jan van Mieris's signature. The work is an important addition to his small oeuvre - no more than forty paintings are known.
It has always been difficult to distinguish Frans van Mieris's late work from the work of his two sons Jan and Willem. Trained in their father's workshop, they used the same painting techniques. They often repeated their father's compositions and completed his unfinished paintings after they inherited his workshop.
Frans van Mieris developed a repertoire of compositional elements that proved to be highly successful in the art market of his day. He also inspired the next generation of painters, particularly his two sons. In The Young Smoker Jan van Mieris skillfully blends his own compositional ideas with those of his father.
Jan, Frans and Willem van Mieris were among the most successful painters of the Leiden school of fijnschilders [fine painters]. The school was highly regarded for its meticulous, highly finished techniques and striking realism, especially in the depiction of fabrics. The application of paint in multiple, fine layers created a surface of almost enamelled smoothness. This came into fullest effect on durable, smooth surfaces such as wood panels and copper plates. These were widely commercially available and therefore commonly used. The technique was time-consuming and therefore costly, which might explain the general preference for small formats. These cabinet paintings were highly valued not only within the new bourgeoisie but also among prominent collectors such as Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony (1670-1733) in Dresden and Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1642-1723) in Florence.
We would like to thank Otto Naumann for confirming the attribution to Jan van Mieris after examining the painting. It will be included in the forthcoming Jan van Mieris catalogue raisonné.