Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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LUDOLF DE JONGH (Overschie 1616 – Hillegersberg 1679)

Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Kestrel

oil on canvas

60 x 44 inches       (152.44 x 111.76 cm.)


Wauchope Family of Niddrie Marischal, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Wauchope Settlement Trust Sale, Christie’s, London, May 12, 1950, lot 77, (as by A. Van Noordt) where bought by

Adams Acton

Charles H.E. Phillips, O.B.E., Mexico City, Mexico, by 1964, and thus by descent in the family to

Private Collection, California, until the present time


Mexico City, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Pintura Neerlandesa en Mexico Siglos XV, XVI y XVII, April—May 1964, no. 73 (as by Jan van Noordt, lent from the collection of C.H.E. Phillips)



Hugh Paget, (introduction), Pintura Neerlandesa en Mexico, Siglos XV, XVI y XVII, Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, 1964, p. 68, no. 73, illustrated (as by Jan Van Noordt)

David Albert Dewitt, Jan van Noordt (1624—after 1676), Ph.D. dissertation, Queen’s University, February 2000, pp. XV, 363, cat. no. R65, (as not by Jan van Noordt), and p. 388, cat. no. L53 (as paintings known only from literary sources), illustrated

David A. de Witt, Jan van Noordt, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, c. 2007, p. 271, no. R70, illustrated, (as not by Jan van Noordt), and p. 285, no. L53, (as paintings known only from literary sources)


An elegantly attired, lovely young boy stands on a porch with a kestrel perched upon his gloved right hand. In his left hand he holds a child’s sword. A curtain divides the interior space from the exterior. Visible to the left is an extensive Flemish river landscape with a town atop a hillside and a city further off in the distance. Laden with symbolism, this is a statement for the ages.

The painting can be dated to circa 1650 by the very fashionable dress of the sitter. He wears an au courant shortened black doublet with a white lace and linen collar closed by hanging tassels with matching cuffs. [1] Lace was a particular token of prosperity, as at this point it was often more costly than woven fabrics or jewelry. [2] His breeches are wide and ornamented with large buttons and fluttering orange ribbons and tassels. The size of the pant leg would increase throughout the decade until 1660, when it attained a spread of six feet. “This explains how it came about that Samuel Pepys, dressed in a similar costume, could discover one evening to his dismay that he had been walking around all day with both his legs in one breeches-leg.” [3] His shoes have long square toes and are closed by large orange satin bows. Also of the moment, are the wide turnovers of his white linen topped with lace overstockings. There is a flash of a red stocking beneath. The mixture of colors in his costume further reflects current fashion. [4] A gloved hand was standard when handling falcons; yellow gloves in particular were for hunting. The wooden sword, with metal pommel and tip, was more of an accessory and status symbol, than intended for actual use. [5] The draped curtain overhead was also meant to recall the dynastic tradition of the curtained structures under which royals sat on ceremonial occasions. [6] 

In the seventeenth century, falconry was the most popular sport of the wealthy. The right to hunt had always been the exclusive privilege of the nobility, restrictive rules that remained intact throughout the eighteenth century. [7] By depicting our young boy with a kestrel, the allusion to wealth and power is clearly stated. But that is only part of the symbolic intent. The kestrel, notable for mostly having brown plumage, although a member of the falcon family, was never used to hunt game. A bird was often painted in children’s portraits of the period as a metaphor for the need to reign in natural tendencies. This could only be accomplished for both through instruction and education. [8] Once fully trained a kestrel when ordered will fly away from its owner and then return upon command. Further parallels are set forth that upon completion of their education, the bird’s loyalty will mirror the child’s faithfulness to his family. [9]

The earliest known location of this portrait was with the Wauchope family of Niddrie Marischal House, formerly situated three miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland. At what point the family acquired the painting is unknown, but the house was built about 1636 adjoining a four-story medieval tower on land they had owned since the early fifteenth century. The house was greatly enlarged by 1823 into a rambling mansion with elegant interiors surrounded by landscaped gardens. In 1899 The Sketch reported the house to have many fine Dutch paintings including a Rembrandt. The last member of the family died in 1943. In 1950 the paintings were removed from the house and sold at auction at Christie’s London. Sadly, Niddrie Marischal was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1959. [10] 

Christie’s recorded the purchaser of this painting at their 1950 sale as Adams Acton. In all likelihood this was Murray Adams-Acton (1886 – 1971) who was an English historian of art and architecture, an interior designer, and a London dealer. Top clients of Adams-Acton included Sir William Burrell, the most prolific art collector in Britain until 1944 when he donated 8,000 works of art to the city of Glasgow. William Randolph Hearst, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art were among others. [11]

By 1964 our portrait was owned by Charles H.E. Phillips of Mexico City. Phillips was a descendant of a British family involved in importing and exporting, banking and insurance, as well as manufacturing since the 1820s in Mexico. Phillips served as President of the Reforma Athletic Club, the Association of Mexican Insurance Companies, and the British Club. He was influential in securing the financial support of the British Community in the campaign to save the American British Hospital in the 1960s. It was under his ownership that Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Kestrel was included in the landmark exhibition of Dutch art held at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1964. Queen Elizabeth II awarded Phillips an OBE for his service to Mexico. [12] The painting has since descended in the family until the present time.

Dr. Roland E. Fleischer, the expert and author of the catalogue raisonné on Ludolf de Jongh, has confirmed the Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Kestrel to have been painted by the artist. [13] It is assumed to date from the time Dr. Fleischer characterizes as when “he was the most active and perhaps the most highly respected painter of the Rotterdam area.” Also, from the period of 1648 – 1650, “De Jongh’s portraits began to take on more animated and colorful features so popularized by Bartholomeus van der Helst.” [14]

It is believed that De Jongh began his training circa 1628-30 and was first apprenticed to Cornelis Saftleven in Rotterdam. He next moved to Delft to study with Anthonie Palamedsz., followed by a period in Utrecht in the studio of Jan van Bylert. Probably sometime after 1635, he left for France where he stayed for the next seven years. Most of this period is thought to have been spent painting portraits. By 1646 De Jongh had returned to Rotterdam and married Adriana Pieters Montagne of Schoonhoven. There his work also included scenes of genre usually set indoors, as well as figural landscapes typically incorporating themes of the hunt. Yet throughout his career, portraits would constitute the largest part of his production. [15] In particular, Arnold Houbraken noted in De groote schouburgh der Nederlanstche Kontschilders en schilderessen his numerous life-size portraits. [16]

Dr. Fleischer in his discussion of the “high quality” of the painting stated, “The general composition with its limited spatial depth quite suddenly contrasted with a dramatic deep perspective is a trait found frequently in De Jongh’s paintings of both portraits and genre. Also a favored device to limit that space, especially in his portraiture, is the use of a wall of masonry identical to the one in this picture… De Jongh’s full length portrait of a boy with a dog in the Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, dated 1661, displays these same features of limited space suddenly contrasted with sharply receding perspective, along with a similar masonry wall.” Dr. Fleischer also notes a comparative example by the artist, sold by Christie’s, London, of a young boy with a dog in 2008 for £97,250 ($144,523). Executed in 1648, it shares the same characteristics “not only a general high quality and a contrast of confined space and dramatic perspective”, [17] but the positioning of the sitter under a raised curtain who also holds a wooden sword, with a view of a landscape through an archway. Further evident in A Young Boy Holding a Kestrel is De Jongh’s “preference for muted hues serving as a foil for a few carefully placed areas of brilliant color.” He was particularly partial to vermillion, [18] employed here in the coloration of the boy’s cuffs, stockings and kestrel’s string.

Besides Richmond, Virginia; De Jongh’s works formed part of the permanent collections of the museums of Amsterdam, Basel, Detroit, Dijon, Dresden, Dublin, Geneva, Groningen, Haarlem, The Hague, Johannesburg, Leipzig, Mainz, Moscow, New York, Osnabrück, Prague, Raleigh, Rotterdam, Saint Petersburg, and Vienna.

After decades of a Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Kestrel mistakenly attributed to A. van Noordt or Jan van Noordt, we are extremely grateful to Dr. Roland Fleischer for identifying the painting as the work of Ludolf de Jongh, and his invaluable assistance in the writing of this entry.

[1] Frithjof van Thienen, The Great Age of Holland 1600 – 1660, George G. Harrap and Company LTD, London, 1951, pp. 12, 13, 25, 27.

[2] Santina M. Levey and Patricia Wardle, The Finishing Touch, Frederiksborg Museum, Denmark, 1994, p. 4.

[3] Frithjof van Thienen, op.cit., p. 13.

[4] Katlijne Van der Stighelen, “Johanna Vergouwen” in Pride and Joy, Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500 – 1700, exhibition catalogue, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, October 7 – December 31, 2000, p. 270.

[5] Annemarieke Willemsen, “Out of Children’s Hands, Surviving Toys and Attributes”, in Pride and Joy, op.cit., p. 299.

[6] Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990, pp. 109, 115.

[7] David William Davies, A Primer of Dutch Oversees Trade, Springer – Science & Business Media, B.V., Dordrecht, 1961, p. 148; and Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece, Rowmant Allenheld Publishers, Totowa, New Jersey, 1984, p. 49.

[8] Jan Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols, Gary Schwartz, SDU Publishers, The Hague, 1990, pp. 113, 119.

[9] Monique Marie Wozny, Constructions of Childhood in the Dutch Golden Age and Pedagogical Theory in the Dutch Republic as Reflected in Children’s Portraiture, Ph.D. dissertation, Queens College, September 2017, p. 18.

[10] The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, volume 28, December 20, 1899, p. 230; Alan Stewart, Tracing your Edinburgh Ancestors: A Guide for Family and Local Historians, Pen & Sword Books Ltd., South Yorkshire, 2015, unpaginated; and “Niddrie Marischal” on The Castles of Scotland,

[11] Brian O’Connell, John Hunt – The Man, The Medievalist, The Connoisseur, The O’Brien Press, Dublin, unpaginated.

[12] “A Contributing Factor in Mexican History”, Watson Phillips y CIA. SOCS. S.A. D.E. C.V.,

[13] Written communication from Roland Fleischer, dated April 4, 2019.

[14] Roland E. Fleischer, Ludolf de Jongh, DAVACO, Doornspijk, 1989, p. 85; and Roland Fleischer, written communication, op.cit..

[15] Roland E. Fleischer, Ludolf de Jongh, op.cit., pp. 13-16, 19.

[16] Arnold Houbraken compiled from 1718 – 1721 the first comprehensive survey of Dutch painting from the Golden Age.

[17] Roland Fleischer, written communication, op.cit..

[18] Roland E. Fleischer, 1989, op.cit., pp. 34, 83.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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