MATTHIJS NAIVEU (Leiden 1647 – Amsterdam 1726)
The Unruly Classroom
signed Naiveu F along the edge of the schoolmaster’s desk, and inscribed on the tossed sheet of paper Eerwaarde Vader an der Moeder
oil on panel
13 x 16 inches (33.1 x 40.6 cm.)
possibly Anonymous sale, Fernand, Ghent, July 26, 1802, lot 1 (“Naiveu. Un école d’enfans, où un garcon est penitence poue avoir olé de macarons. C’est un composition des plus capitales de cet excellent élève du célèbre Gerard Douw, sur bois, haut 12 et large 14 pouces et demi”)
Henry Early Wyatt, Esq. of Hastings, Christie’s, London, July 29, 1876
Anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, March 5, 1954, lot 33 (catalogued as by E. van der Moeder due to a misinterpretation of the inscription), where purchased by
Brod Gallery, London
Adele-Marie Dzidzaria, Entertaining genre of Matthijs Naiveau – depicting festivities and performances at the dawn of the ‘Theatre Age’, Ph.D. dissertation, Utrecht University, 2007, pp. 29-30, 103, no. 97, illustrated
Arnold Houbraken compiled from 1718–1721 the first comprehensive survey of Dutch painting from the Golden Age in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en schilderessen. Houbraken contemporaneously recorded Matthijs Naiveu’s career as having begun with Abraham van Toorenvliet and then continued in the studio of Gerrit Dou. Tuition records have confirmed that Naiveu was instructed by Dou between 1667 and 1669. By 1671, Naiveu was a member of the Guild of Saint Luke in Leiden. From 1677 until 1679, Naiveu served as the guild’s hoofdman (“headman”). In 1678 or 1679, along with his family, Naiveu moved from Leiden to Amsterdam.
The painter is best known for portraits and genre, but also painted allegorical and religious works. It would be Naiveu’s scenes filled with drama, such as The Unruly Classroom, that would constitute his most renowned paintings. His works formed part of the permanent collections of the museums of Amsterdam, Boston, Budapest, Dijon, Geneva, Haarlem, Hambourg, Innsbruck, Leiden, Lille, New York, Rome, and Rotterdam, among others.
In the scene that Naiveu has laid before us, an aged schoolmaster brandishes his ferole (wooden spoon) and beckons a distraught child wearing a jester’s cap. With dropped trousers, the boy holds the birch branches that will mete out his punishment. The root of his offense lies on the paving stones in torn sheets of mistake-laden lessons. The universal delight of his classmates is palpable; only the schoolmistress shows concern. The classroom is illuminated by natural light that pours in from the open windows. A city street, presumably in Amsterdam, is discernable through the rear window.
The level of education in The Netherlands during the 17th century was of a higher standard than the rest of Europe. Schooling began with reading, while writing lessons commenced after the age of eight or nine. Classes included boys as well as girls. Discipline was regarded as a key component of education, and an essential for properly shaping the ultimate character of a child. For Naiveu’s patrons, such works would have been regarded as humorous scenes, as well as a warning to younger members of the household. Inherently, it would also serve as a prompting for the need of self-discipline in one’s own life.
 Walter Liedtke, “Matthijs Naiveu” in Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven, volume I, 2007, p. 501.
 Liedtke, op. cit., p. 501; and Dzidzaria, op. cit., p. 29.
 Mary Frances Durantini, The Child in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, MI, circa 1983, pp. 120, 129; and A. Th. van Deursen, Plain Lives in a Golden Age, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1991, pp. 122-123.