LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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GERARD DONCK (before 1610 – after 1640, active in Amsterdam)

A Portrait of an Eleven-Year-Old Girl

inscribed and dated Aetatis Suae 11/ 1636 in the upper right

oil on panel

27 ⅝ x 18 ⅜ inches          (70.3 x 46.4 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Private collection, France

Prof. Rudolf E.O. Eckart has confirmed this painting to be by Gerard Donck.

This engaging portrait of an unidentified girl, aged eleven, is a typical and hitherto unknown work by the enigmatic artist Gerard Donck.[1] Donck’s portraits are rare: ten had been attributed so far, and the emergence of this portrait brings his known output of portraits to eleven. Donck’s portraits vary in character: he painted family portraits set in a landscape, busts, and full-length portraits that recall official life-size portraits, such as the present work. The latter formula was originally reserved for princes, stadholders and high nobility. Thomas de Keyser was the first Dutch artist to adapt it to cabinet-size for members of the urban elite in the 1620s. Gerard Donck followed suit in the 1630s. The girl in our painting stands in front of a partly raised curtain and a plain wall, near a table bedecked with a pinkish rug on a checkerboard floor. Contemporary accounts confirm that, at least in the first half of the seventeenth century, sitters attached great importance to a truthful representation of their clothes and accessories.[2] Indeed, the extremely detailed rendering of the dress in the present portrait strongly suggests it was painted from life. To a certain extent the girl’s social background may be deduced from her attire. The girl wears a black silk costume with pink sleeves and purple skirt. The costume is embroidered with plant motifs. The rosette on her waist is a fashionable detail and contrasts with her broad, densely pleated ruff, which gives her likeness a decidedly conventional flavour. Other conspicuous accessories are her gold bracelets, deep cuffs lined with bobbin lace, and her richly embroidered gloves, which make it unlikely that she comes from a Mennonist or comparable orthodox milieu. The function of gloves in portraits was to underscore the sitter’s wealth and status. Especially, in the first decades of the seventeenth century, gloves had aristocratic connotations. We can, however, not be certain that the girl shown here is of noble blood: she could equally be a member of a patrician family. That her dress is slightly old-fashioned, given the date of 1636, could indicate that she was not from the city of Amsterdam, but from a nearby town, for example Alkmaar or Enkhuizen. In smaller towns, fashion styles usually lagged a few years or more behind. The girl’s likeness suggests it is true to life: in particular her slightly timid expression is rendered so convincingly that the beholder feels the artist has also succeeded in faithfully capturing her character.

About Gerard Donck’s life, we know nothing with certainty. Donck painted portraits, market scenes, and kitchen interiors, but he also tried his hand at biblical and mythological subjects. Dated works are known from 1630 to 1640. As some of the sitters in his portraits have been identified as Amsterdam citizens it is assumed that he worked there.

 

 

[1] The attribution to Donck has been confirmed upon firsthand inspection by Prof. R.E.O. Ekkart, former director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague. For further reference on the artist, see: S. Craft-Giepmans, ‘De Amsterdamse organist Nicolaes Willemsz Lossy (ca. 1604-1664) door Gerrit Donck geportretteerd’, Maandblad Amstelodamum 98 (2011), no. 3, pp. 122-129.

[2] M. de Winkel, ‘The Artist as Courtier: The “Portrayal” of Clothing in the Golden Age’, in R. Ekkart and Q. Buvelot (eds.), Dutch Portraits. The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals, exhibition catalog, The Hague, Mauritshuis; London, National Gallery 2007/2008, pp. 65-69.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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