NICOLAES MAES (Dordrecht 1634 – Amsterdam 1693)
Portrait of a Boy in Classical Dress with a Bullfinch and Spaniel
oil on panel, in a painted oval
17 x 12 inches (43.3 x 30.5 cm.)
Sold to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Brian Koetser, London, 1971
Private Collection, Holland
De Kunst van het Opvoeden (The Art of Raising Children), Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, April 27 – September 15, 2013
Apollo, March 1971, in an advertisement for Brian Koetser, London, Spring Exhibition of Old Master Paintings
J. Fila and J. J. H. Dekker, De Kunst van het Opvoeden, Walburg Pers, Zutphen, 2013, pp. 22-23 (illustrated)
Dr. Léon Krempel has confirmed this painting to be by Nicolaes Maes, and dates it to the 1670s.
Professor Werner Sumowski has confirmed the painting to be by Nicolaes Maes, and dates it to the late 1660s.
Gerrit Maes, a well-to-do silk merchant and soap manufacturer in Dordrecht, and his wife Ida Herman Claesdr were the parents of Nicolaes Maes. According to Arnold Houbraken in De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen (1718-1721) Maes first studied drawing in Dordrecht with a “mediocre master” (“een gemeen meester”) and then went to Amsterdam to study painting with Rembrandt. He probably was in Amsterdam from 1648/50 until 1653, when he returned to Dordrecht to marry Adriana Brouwers. His work of the 1650s most closely reveals the influence of Rembrandt. Representing mainly scenes of domestic genre, with the employment of his master’s brushwork, coloration and chiaroscuro, Maes invokes a stateliness not often associated with such subjects. His earliest portraits also date from the 1650s but show little of Rembrandt’s style, rather reflect such Dordrecht artists as Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp, Aelbert Cuyp, and Samuel von Hoogstraten. These works are characterized by a limited palette, austere backgrounds, frontal poses, restrained gestures and guarded expressions. After circa 1660 the subject paintings would be abandoned with the remainder of his career devoted exclusively to portraiture.
In the 1650s painters such as Govaert Flinck, Adriaen Hanneman and Jan Mytens introduced the Flemish style of portraiture based on Anthony van Dyck into the northern Netherlands, from which Maes’s mature style datable to the 1660s slowly evolved. Mytens’s work in particular played an important formative role evidently inspiring the vivid colors and facile brushwork that would characterize Maes’s later portraits. After the deaths of the Amsterdam portrait painters Bartholomeus van der Helst in 1670 and Abraham van den Tempel in 1672, Maes, seeing an opportunity for increased patronage, moved there in 1673 and the gamble worked. Houbraken recorded, “so much work came his way that it was deemed a favor if one person was granted the opportunity to sit for his portrait before another, and so it remained for the rest of his life.”
This charming young boy in pink classical dress with a plumed hat, is flanked by a playful brown and white Spaniel while holding a perched Bullfinch. The dog is a metaphor often found in children’s portraits of the seventeenth century for the need to reign in natural tendencies. This could be accomplished for both child and dog only through instruction and education. The Bullfinch “also refers to contemporary educational beliefs. The boy has learnt ‘to sit up’ and behave just as the little bird has been trained to do so,” thus acting as an additional symbol for the proper education of the child.
 Biographical information taken from William W. Robinson, “Nicolaes Maes” in The Grove Dictionary of Art, From Rembrandt to Vermeer, 17th-Century Dutch Artists, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2000, pp. 201-203; and Walter Liedtke, “Nicolaes Maes” in Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, volume I, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 430-431.
 Robinson, op. cit., pp. 202-203.
 Jan Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols, Gary Schwartz, SDU Publications, The Hague, 1990, pp. 113, 119.
 Katlijne Van der Stighelen, “Circle of Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a Boy,” in Portraits and Other Recent Acquisitions, Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, New York, 2006, no 4.