SYBRAND VAN BEEST (The Hague (?) 1606/1620 - Amsterdam 1674)
A Quack Praising his Merchandise near the Munt Tower, Amsterdam
signed in the lower right Beest
oil on panel
27 x 23 inches (69.5 x 59.5 cm.)
(probably) Anonymous sale, Philippe van der Schley, Amsterdam, July 10, 1805, lot 37, where bought by Gruiter
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, July 20, 1973, lot 244, where bought by
Art market, Zurich, 1975, from whom acquired by
Private Collection, New York, until 2005, where purchased by
Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York, who sold it 2006 to
Private Collection, The Netherlands, until the present time
E. Bénézit, “Sybrand van Beest” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 1, Libraire Gründ, Paris, 1976, p. 575
Greg Forster, The Contested Public Square, InterVarsity Press, Grove, Illinois, 2008 (reproduced for the cover illustration)
Sybrand van Beest was probably born in The Hague, where as a boy he came into the service of Pieter van Veen, a successful lawyer and amateur artist, as personal secretary. Van Veen may have inspired him to paint, and perhaps gave him his first lessons. After Pieter van Veen’s death in 1629, van Beest shared a house with the latter’s unmarried son, Symon, an amateur painter like his father, until Symon’s death in 1661. Van Beest’s (early) style is somewhat reminiscent of that of Adriaen van de Venne, under whom he may have studied. He did not join the guild at The Hague until 1640, although earlier dated works are known. He was a co-founder of the Confrerie Pictura, The Hague association of artist-painters, in 1656, of which organization he was a warden during the early 1660s. By 1670 he had moved to Amsterdam, where he died.
Sybrand van Beest is mainly known for his animated townscapes, often with vegetable or pig markets, while he also painted domestic genre scenes and some history pieces and historical scenes, among them the visit of the Russian envoy to The Hague in 1631.
The location of the present scene is a well-known spot in Amsterdam; the tower is the Munttoren, built in 1620, which still stands. It is located at the end of a street that leads to Dam Square, Kalverstraat, on which street van Beest lived. The tower was built after a design of Hendrick de Keyser, on the spot of a medieval gatehouse, which had burned down in 1618. From 1672, the adjacent building was used to strike coins, which gave it the name Munt.
The Amsterdam location, the style of painting and the dress of the figures all indicate that this is a late work by van Beest, painted after his move to Amsterdam, so during the first half of the 1670s. The scene is no less lively than van Beest’s earlier market scenes, but the emphasis is much stronger on the architectural setting, which it appears to be topographically accurate. In his Hague market scenes landmarks such as the church tower, are rendered accurately, while the setting, as a whole, appears to be more or less fictive. Perhaps to compensate for the dominance of the architecture, van Beest has introduced several figures pointing at the central scene.
Even though medical science was progressing enormously during the seventeenth century, quacks still played an important role. They offered their pills and potions on markets and fairs, traveling from town to town. They were often shown -- and ridiculed -- in paintings and prints, the latter often with added mottos such as ‘The world wants to be deceived’. Van Beest shows the quack presenting his wares on scaffolding, with a well-dressed assistant holding up his certificate with ‘official’ seals, while the woman seated at the back may well act as a cured patient. The quack has drawn quite a crowd, men women and children, and attracts the attention of a young man, running towards the scene so as not to miss anything, and of a maid carrying out laundry, as well as of the occupants of the house across the street. A man and a woman feeding her baby, seated under the tree, appear to be discussing the quack’s claims. The little wooden building adjacent to the Munt building appears to be used for doing laundry in. The maid carrying out her basket of sheets at the left is probably on her way to it, while the sitting man also appears to have brought a basket of linen.
Fred G. Meijer
Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie