Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


ADAM ISAACKSZ. COLONIA (Rotterdam 1634 – London 1685)

Peasants Around a Bonfire

signed A D Colonia (AD in monogram) in the lower right,

inscribed on the reverse Eÿbert v: d: Pool /

der Nahme ist aüch ümstehend zü ersehen

oil on panel

10 ½ x 10 ¼ inches        (26.7 x 26 cm.)


Meyer van Embden, Amsterdam by 1971

His sale, Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, December 8, 1980, lot 304, (as by Egbert van der Poel)

Private Collection, New York and thus by descent until the present time


A Rotterdam specialty starting in the 1650s was brandjes paintings that showcased fires against evening skies.  Egbert van der Poel who moved to Rotterdam in 1654 was famous for his nocturnal bonfires and his best known follower in the genre was Adam Isaacksz. Colonia, so it is not surprising that this panel had at one point the spurious signature of Poel.  These works afforded artists a wonderful opportunity to display virtuosity with a variety of lighting effects as well as mesmerizing illusion.  The subject of these paintings regularly featured burning buildings and the resulting human panic and misery, rendering a vanitas theme on the transient nature of worldly possessions and the fragility of life. [2]

Colonia in this work takes an opposing view by displaying the life-giving effects of fire.  By the employment of a low vantage point and a seductive curving of the yellow and orange flames the viewer is beckoned into the scene to bask in the warmth and comfort of the fire’s glow.  The night is clearly chilly, attested to by the panel’s huddled occupants who gather around the blaze with extended hands.  After being sent off the hesitancy of the man on the right to depart speaks volumes.

Adam Isaacksz. Colonia also called Adam de Colonia was the son of the portraitist Isaack Adamsz. Colonia (c. 1611-1663) and grandson of the painter Adam-Louisz Colonia (1574-1651).  They are also probably the source of his initial training.  Colonia was well respected in his time, the Rotterdam chronicler Gerrit van Spaan (1651-1711) called him a ‘brave kers-nagten, maneschijn-en beestenschilder’, a good painter of adorations (of the shepherds), moonlit scenes and animals. [3]  His landscapes show the influences of Nicolaes Berchem and Adam Pynacker.  

Shortly after 1670 Colonia moved to London where he is recorded as a member of the Dutch church of Austin Friars in 1675.  His son and pupil was Hendrik Adriaen de Colonia (1668-1701) who painted staffage for the landscapes of his brother-in-law Adriaen van Diest. [4]

Works by the artist can be found in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom; Bolton Museum, Bolton; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Finnish National Gallery of Art Collections, Helsinki; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; and the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm among others. 

We are grateful to Fred G. Meijer for his aid in the writing of this entry and for the identification of the artist as Adam Isaacksz. Colonia.



[1] This inscription refers to an added signature of Egbert van der Poel that was in the varnish layer and immediately came off in the initial cleaning.

[2] Nora Schadee, “Two Rotterdam Specialities” in Rotterdamse Meesters uit de Gouden Eeuw, Historisch Museum, Rotterdam, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 1994, p. 349.

[3] Written communication with Fred G. Meijer dated July 25, 2009.

[4] Ellis Waterhouse, “Adam de Colonia” in The Dictionary of 16th and 17th Century British Painters, The Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1988, p. 54.


Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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