Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


QUIRINGH VAN BREKELENKAM (Zwammerdam (?) near Leiden circa 1623 – Leiden 1669 (?) or after)

A Housewife and Maid with a Fish

signed and dated Q. Breklenkam 1664 in the lower right

oil on panel

17 5/8 x 15 1/3 inches             (44.6 x 38.9 cm.)


D.N. Teengs sale, Monnickendam, September 23, 1824, lot 7

Right Hon. Viscount D’Abernon, Esher Place, Esher, England

Schieffer Gallery, Amsterdam, 1928, from whom purchased by

Alfred Cohen, Amsterdam, 1931, who consigned it to

Firma D. Katz, Dieren, November, 1941

Selected by Dr. Hans Posse, Director of the Führermuseum, and confiscated by the Generalkommisar zur besonderen Verwendung, Sonderreferat Kulturaustausch, The Hague for

Hitler’s museum to be built in Linz (no. 22178) by 1941, and eventually deposited at Altaussee salt mine, Altaussee, Austria (no. 5505), where recovered by the

Monuments Fine Arts and Archives section (“The Monuments Men”) of the Allied Forces, who arrived May 16, 1945 and transferred to

Munich Central Collecting Point, October 18, 1945, no. 10291 and returned to

Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit, January 15, 1946

Restituted to the heirs of Alfred Cohen, New York, by 1954, and thus by descent in the family until the present time



Angelika Lasius, Quiringh van Brekelenkam, Davaco, Doornspijk, 1992, pp. 59, 76,130, no. 176

Leslie Gilbert Elman, "The Remarkable Journey of the Housewife, the Maid, and the Fish" in Fine Art Connoisseur, September/Ocotber 2014, pp. 47-49


Although very little is known about the life of Quiringh van Brekelenkam it is likely that he received his artistic training in Leiden.  In 1648 he joined the newly founded Guild of St. Luke in Leiden.  It is also from this year that his earliest dated work is known, Domestic Cares in the Stedelijk Museum, Leiden.  His career spanned two decades from 1648-1668, and with the exception of a few still lifes and portraits, Brekelenkam devoted himself to genre. [1]  Lasius in her monograph records a total of 238 accepted works.

During the first decade of his career the artist painted simple domestic scenes as well as hermits.  These works reflect his close ties to the Leiden school of fijnschilders, a group of artists centered around Gerrit Dou, but as early as the 1650s Brekelenkam would begin to formulate a more individualized style, one which would reflect the influence of Gabriel Metsu.  From 1653-1664 the majority of his paintings depict the workshops and stalls of different crafts and tradesmen, such as the shoemaker, barber-surgeon, apothecary, tailor, coppersmith, lace-maker, fruit-seller, shrimp-seller and vegetable seller.  No other contemporary Dutch artist would represent these subjects as often.  In the 1660s his works would also include the newly fashionable conversation pieces in elegant interiors and within this group depictions of housewives with maids would dominate.  During this period his palette would brighten and become more luminous, reflecting the influences of Jan Steen, Gerard ter Borch, Pieter de Hooch and Jacob Ochtervelt.  By this point he had also developed a distinctive hand characterized by broad fluid brush strokes, thinly applied paint, carefully crafted figures and objects with slightly blurred faces and contours, clothing consisting of a few well modeled folds, all covered in a fine glaze. [2]

Brekelenkam and his fellow artists rarely worked for individual patrons but instead in an open market whose main outlets consisted of auctions and dealers.  As competition was fierce, artists tried to stand out by specializing in certain subjects or by the introduction of original themes, which would then be associated exclusively with their name.  It is possible that Brekelenkam was the first artist to portray the general subject of this panel, a housewife examining goods purchased by a maid. [3]  Images of housewives supervising their maids would become the most popular domestic theme in seventeenth century Dutch genre painting. [4]  Ochtervelt and De Hooch both painted such scenes, but it is unclear who did so first. [5]

Lasius considers Brekelenkam’s finest works to date from 1660-1664.  She lists six known versions of a Housewife and Maid with Fish, all believed to have been executed circa 1663-1664. [6]{C}  In this panel the mistress of the house, {C}[7] seated in a well-appointed room, is resplendent in gold satin dress, ermine trimmed jacket and clustered pearl earrings; a striking contrast to the maid’s brown, white and red dress whose chief ornaments are the household implements that hang from her waist.  The mistress engaged with her toilet has been interrupted by the maid in order to inspect a fish.  Contemporary domestic conduct books, such as Jacob Cats’ Houwelyck (Marriage) of which there were at least 50,000 copies in circulation by the middle of the seventeenth century, detailed at great lengths the housewife’s obligation to oversee her servants. By doing so both mistress and maid fulfill their expected roles as supervisor and subordinate, the painting’s underlying message is one of tacit approval as well as a nod to worldly order.[8]

Alfred Cohen was the director as well as one of the owners of the luxury department store Maison de Bonneterie in Amsterdam. In search of exit visas after the Nazi invasion of Holland in May 1940, Cohen contacted a friend at the Swiss consulate. As he owned a large collection of Dutch seventeenth century paintings, he was put in touch with Dr. Hans Posse, Director of the Führermuseum, who was gathering works for Hitler’s art museum to be built in Linz. In November 1941 from the 40 works Cohen owned, Posse selected 16 for the museum including the Brekelenkam. This was done under the auspices of the Generalkommisar zur besonderen Verwendung, Sonderreferat Kulturaustausch, located in The Hague. Initially part of the paintings were stored in the Swiss Consulate and part in a bank vault and later transferred to the salt mine in Altaussee, Austria. In January 1942 the Cohens were allowed to leave along with other fleeing Jews in a sealed train to Irun, Spain. They next made their way to Cuba and eventually resettled in New York.[9]

The salt mine in Altaussee was first used by the museums of Vienna to store their treasures. But after the increase of allied air raids Hitler requisitioned the salt mine for his own use during the winter of 1943-1944. The most valued treasures of the regime were kept in Altaussee including Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna as well as Vermeer’s The Art of Painting and The Astronomer, in all a total of 6,577 paintings. The village of Altaussee was held by a handful of American infantry soldiers when the Monuments Men (The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied Forces) arrived on May 16, 1945 just eight days after the official ending of the war in Europe. What they discovered when they reached the mine was that as a result of the 76 bomb blasts all 137 tunnels of the mine had been sealed by the retreating Nazi troops. It took until June 14 to clear all the passageways to find miraculously that not one piece of artwork had been irretrievably damaged. Packing began ten days later when news was received that the mine would fall into the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Anything left in the mine would be handed over to Stalin. In all 80 truckloads left Altaussee. The removed works were taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point which was housed in the former Nazi headquarters, one of the largest buildings left standing after the war, and it is there that Brekelenkam’s A Housewife and Maid with a Fish arrival was recorded on a restitution card dated October 18, 1945.[10] On January 15, 1946 the painting was returned to Holland under the control of the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit. After prolonged negotiations with the institution Alfred Cohen was able to retrieve 15 of the 16 paintings Posse had selected for Linz[11] including the Brekelenkam, which was returned to the family by 1954.



[1] Lasius, op. cit., pp. 7-8, 15, 69.

[2] Ibid, pp. 69, 148.

[3] Ibid, pp. 37, 70-71.

[4] Wayne E. Frantis, Paragons of Virtue, Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 100.

[5] Lasius, op. cit., p. 37.

[6] Lasius has given this painting no. 176 an incorrect date of 1661 (?) instead of its actual date of 1664.

[7] The image of the young housewife is repeated frequently in paintings of the 1660s, distinctive due to her shoulder-length blond curly hair and high forehead, see Lasius, p. 37.

[8] Frantis, op. cit., pp. 5-6, 100-101.

[9] Lien Heyting, “Oh, it’s hopeless” in nrc. n1 archief, November 7, 1997.

[10] Robert M. Edsel, The Monuments Men, Center Street, New York, 2009, pp. 303-305, 374, 381-82, 387.

[11] Heyting, op. cit.

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