LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

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KAREL VAN DER PLUYM (Leiden 1625 – Leiden 1672)

The Goldweigher

oil on an unlined canvas

30 1/2 x 30 ⅝ inches          (77.6 x 77.8 cm.)


PROVENANCE

F. Kleinberger Galleries, Inc., Paris, 1927, and later in New York

Bachstitz Gallery, Berlin, The Hague, and New York, by 1933

Albert Wiggins, New York

Julius Weitzner, New York, by 1956 until at least 1979

Corporate Collection, until 2012

 

EXHIBITED

Raleigh, North Carolina, The North Carolina Museum of Art, Rembrandt and his Pupils,

November 16 – December 30, 1956, no. 76 (lent by Julius Weitzner, New York)

 

LITERATURE

A. Bredius, “Karel van der Pluym: Neef en leerling van Rembrandt” in Oud Holland,

XLVIII, 1931, pp. 225, 257, no. 12, illustrated

A. Bredius, “Karel van der Pluym” in Dr. Ulrich Thieme & Dr. Felix Becker,

Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XXVII, Veb E. A. Seeman Verlag,

Leipzig, 1933, p. 164 (Dr. Bachstitz, Berlin)

A. Pigler, Barockthemen, volume II, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1956, p. 518

W. R. Valentiner, Rembrandt and his Pupils, A Loan Exhibition, The North Carolina

Museum of Art, Raleigh, November 16 – December 30, 1956, pp. 37, 123, no. 76,

illustrated (lent by Julius Weitzner)

Werner Sumowski, Bemerkungen zu O. Beneschs Corpus der Rembrandt–Zeichnungen

II, Bad Pyrmont, 1961, p. 24, no. A 34

Werner Sumowski, “Hitherto Unknown Draughtsmen of the Rembrandt School” in

Master Drawings, volume 6, No. 3, Autumn 1968, pp. 272, 274, fig. 3, illustrated (Julius

Weitzner, New York)

Werner Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, volume 9, Abaris Books, New

York, 1979, no. 2127, (J. Weitzner Gallery, New York)

Werner Sumowski, “Karel van der Pluym” in Gemälde der Rembrandt – Schüler, volume

IV, Landau, 1983, pp. 2365, 2378, no. 1596, illustrated

Henry Adams, “If Not Rembrandt, Then His Cousin?” in The Art Bulletin, LXVI,

September, 1984, p. 438

Stephanie S. Dickey, Rembrandt Portraits in Print, John Benjamins Pub. Co.,

Philadelphia, c. 2004, pp. 72, 184, fn. 35

David De Witt, The Bader Collection: Dutch and Flemish Paintings, Agnes Etherington

Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, c. 2008, pp. 245-246, fn. 2

 

Walther Bernt in The Netherlandish Painters of the Seventeenth Century summarized Karel van der Pluym’s career by stating, “His pictures, which are rare, were often passed off as Rembrandt’s by removing his signature”.1  Born into a prominent Leiden family Van der Pluym had the further distinction of being Rembrandt’s cousin. Rembrandt’s uncle Cornelis van Zuytbrouck was Van der Pluym’s maternal grandfather. Van der Pluym’s parents were Dominicus Jansz van der Pluym and Cornelia Cornelisdr van Zuytbrouck. His father held the office of municipal plumber and slate roofer, a position that had been occupied by members of the family since the last century. Although undocumented, owing to the family connection and the reflection stylistically of Rembrandt’s output from the 1640s, it is believed that Van der Pluym apprenticed with the master in Amsterdam from about 1645 – 1648. Van der Pluym’s earliest known work dates from 1648 The Old Fish and Vegetable Seller (see Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1983, pp. 2364, 2373, no. 1592a), the same year that he is a founding member of the Leiden painters’ guild.  On December 30, 1651 he married Adriana Schuyl. He served as the guild’s hoofdman (headman) in 1652 and 1653 and as its dean in 1654 – 1655. During this period he maintained his own studio. In 1661 the guild pursued Van der Pluym for unpaid dues to which he responded that he has abandoned painting. His last dated work is from 1659, another Goldweigher (see Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1983, pp. 2367, 2384, no. 1601), which perhaps confirms this statement. It would further explain why his known output is so small, consisting of about 12 accepted paintings.  Other than his painting from 1648, Van der Pluym’s oeuvre on both panel and canvas consists of historical, allegorical or meditative single figures. His allegories are also conveyed by the use of single figures in interiors depicting either scholars or goldweighers. Whether meditative or allegorical these figures are almost all old men or women often dramatically lit against dark backgrounds with the stamp of Rembrandt throughout in style and pictorial motif.2

Van der Pluym in a will dated 1662 bequeathed 3,000 florins to each of Adriaen van Rijn’s children (Rembrandt’s older brother) as well as to Rembrandt’s son Titus. From 1664 onwards Van der Pluym had a seat on the board of governors for the City of Leiden. It is also known that at some point he came into a large inheritance from his parents and took over his father’s position of municipal plumber. In 1665 Titus came to Leiden after being assigned power of attorney by his father in the hopes of collecting an inheritance from Rembrandt’s cousin the sea captain Pieter van Medenblick, whose estate fell under the auspices of the Chamber of Orphans in Leiden. Rembrandt remained in Amsterdam at the house on Rozengracht still trying to resolve the debt resulting from his bankruptcy of 1656. (Titus and Hendrickje, his common-law wife, at this point had formed an art dealership with Rembrandt serving as a paid employee in order to shield him from current and future creditors.) As Titus was still under age Van der Pluym along with another citizen of Leiden were appointed his legal guardians. After Van der Pluym’s death in 1672 obscurity followed until 1931 when Abraham Bredius published the first corpus of his works (see A. Bredius, op. cit., 1931).3

In The Goldweigher an elderly bearded man sits contemplatively absorbed in the act of weighing a gold coin. Seated in a high backed leather chair at a cloth-covered table, he holds a scale in his right hand and a gold coin in his left. Before him is an open ledger from which a rolled document protrudes as well as an open money bag and more gold coins. Just discernible behind him on the right side of the wall is a landscape in a black frame.  It is pictorial imagery that derives from a time-honored theme in Dutch and Flemish painting that dates back to the fifteenth century. 4 Such depictions were traditionally viewed as warnings against the sins of avarice and greed, but in seventeenth century Holland the weighing of coins was a common practice in businesses and households alike. Currency at this point in the Netherlands was unregulated, paper money was not used in Europe until 1690, leaving only metal coins. There were fourteen active mints in the Netherlands, each of which were supposed to self-regulate their coinage to a set standard. The outcome often proved to be either over or under weight coins. Adding to the complexity of the problem was the widespread use of foreign coins within the economy, which suffered from the same problems of varying weight. As the value of the coins used for everyday transactions differed greatly, coins needed to be weighed to determine their actual worth. The government regulated the production of money scales and they became common in households and businesses. In the Netherlands these scales consisted of a rounded pan for the brass weight and a triangular pan which could hold a single coin, as depicted in this painting. Each scale had several weights that conformed to the standards set for various coins. Similarly as the situation called for the constant weighing of coins, it further necessitated the keeping of accurate records. The Dutch Republic was in a period of economic prosperity fostered by the establishment of private banks and other new financial institutions which created commodities contracts, government bonds, options, futures, bills of exchange, and shares in trading companies like the Dutch East India Company. By 1650 the Netherlands was the richest country in the world. In such an atmosphere trade and accumulated wealth became a source of pride but also made the need to prudently manage ones funds paramount which is exactly what is demonstrated in the painting. While hard work and its rewards were heralded, it was also generally felt that along with wealth came moral responsibility.5  The transitory nature of life was to be remembered as well as the need to achieve a balance between material and spiritual concerns.6 Although apart from the subject our painting contains no overt vanitas symbols such as a skull or hourglass the message is clearly delivered. The dirty hands of the goldweigher speaks volumes. The contrasted areas of light and dark in the painting almost evenly divided by the outer edge of the painted frame of the hanging landscape, parallel the need to maintain a balance in life. The use of historicizing costume most notably the beret, which was very fashionable in the sixteenth century but completely outdated by its end, adds a timeless quality to the work underlining the validity of its message.7 The flowing untrimmed grey beard of the goldweigher works in a similar vein as it was an attribute more often employed by Rembrandt and his school in the depiction of biblical or historical figures as opposed to urban burghers.  The intentional use of an almost square format by Rembrandt in such works as the 1648 Supper at Emmaus, Louvre (inv. no. 1739, oil on panel, 68 x 65 cm.) functions to release the scene from a set time and place.8 Herbert Fendrich in Rembrandts Darstellungen des Emmausmahles stated that here the square “suggests the suspension of time and creates the impression that the event is somehow timeless or beyond time. Like a roundel, the square expresses eternity. Moreover, the square produces a balance between horizontality and verticality and ties together man’s being-in-the-world and being-somewhere-beyond. The painting thus comes to a stillness in the balance that ensues between immanence and transcendence.”9 I would suggest that this was also Van der Pluym’s intent and goes along with the use of the combative forces of dark and light as well as the employment of antique clothing and a biblical beard to denote the work’s intrinsic vanitas theme.  The subject of prudence probably held particular significance for Van der Pluym in view of the marked contrast between his financial security and the fiscal failings of his cousin and mentor as Rembrandt had declared bankruptcy in 1656, and may be the reason he chose to paint the theme on at least two other occasions.

Believed to date from the 1650s The Goldweigher reflects Rembrandt’s so called “rough manner”, a style he pursued and developed between 1642 – 1654. Veering away from works intended to be myopically scrutinized these paintings are meant to be viewed from a distance. By combining the effects of chiaroscuro with a looser brush laden with impasto, Rembrandt was able to inject a feeling of spontaneity into these paintings. The visibility of the raised brush strokes along with now seen scraping and scratches served to catch and intensify the play of light across the painted surfaces. Additionally by painting the subject in the foreground in the “rough manner” and the background smooth an increased three-dimensionality was achieved.10 By applying these techniques Van der Pluym creates a powerful work, balanced and sharply focused within the confines of the almost square canvas. Light streams from an unseen source in the upper left illuminating the left-side of his face, wall, hands, ledger, gold and money bag. The right side of the face and back wall are cast in deep shadow. More effective than if evenly lit a sense of timelessness is achieved. As depicted such traits as a wrinkled brow especially concentrated over the right eye, hairpin shaped eyes, bulbous fingers with distinctive fingernails, scratches on the paint surface made by the use of the back end of the brush visible on his right sleeve, beard and right hand, the use of a series of small strokes across the hands for highlights, and renderings of fur that closely resemble cotton balls interconnect the known works.11 The vibrancy of its autumnal palette composed of ocher, russet and browns was remarked upon by W. R. Valentiner in his catalog for the Raleigh exhibition of 1956 stating that its color composition surpassed the signed examples of the artist in the Cook collection and Leiden.12 In The Goldweigher the evocative use of light and shadow combined with passages of thick impasto with warm coloration define and serve to monumentalize the image.

Among the few identified drawings by the artist there exists a small study for The Goldweigher (pen and brown ink, falsely inscribed Remb. by a later hand, 70 x 75 mm.) that was with C. G. Boerner, Leipzig in 1918 but has since disappeared.13 Works that are in public collections by Van der Pluym include Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario; Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf; Frick Collection, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne; Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow; and the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. The remainder are all in private collections.

Given the scarcity of paintings by the artist we are delighted to bring The Goldweigher to market and feel a rare opportunity has been presented. Intended to be timeless, the relevancy of Karel van der Pluym’s vanitas depiction of economic forces out of control necessitating the constant taking stock of personal assets and ones own life remains undiminished.

We are extremely grateful to Professor Werner Sumowski for re-confirming the painting as a work by Karel van der Pluym.

 

 

[1] Walther Bernt, “Carel van der Pluym” in The Netherlandish Painters of the Seventeenth Century, volume II, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, 1970, p. 93.

[2] Biographical information taken from Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1983, pp. 2361, 2363-2367; Henry Adams, op. cit., pp. 433-435; Paul Huys Janssen, “Karel van der Pluym” in The Hoogsteder Exhibition of Rembrandt’s Academy, Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder, Waanders Publishers, Zwolle, c. 1992, p. 277; Christiaan Vogelaar, “Attributed to Karel van der Pluym” in Rembrandt’s Mother: myth and reality, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, c. 2005, p. 213; and Walter Liedtke, “Style of Rembrandt: Man in Armor (Mars?)” in Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, volume II, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 727.

[3] Biographical information taken from Walter Liedtke, “Follower of Rembrandt” in Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt, volume II, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 10, 1995 – January 7, 1996, p. 114; and Christiaan Vogelaar, op. cit., c. 2005.

[4] Wayne Frantis, Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2004, p. 239.

[5] Benjamin Roberts, Through the Keyhole, Uitgeverij Verloren, Hilversum, 1998, p. 40; and Roberta J. Pokphanh, “The Proceeds of Prosperity: Images of Domestic Money Management and Exchange in Dutch Genre Painting in the Middle of the Seventeenth Century”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kansas, 2009, pp. 12, fn. 5, 13-16, 20, 48-49.

[6] Stephanie S. Dickey, op. cit., p. 86; and Christiaan Vogelaar, op. cit., “Rembrandt van Rijn, Old Man Counting his Money”, p. 150.

[7] A beret is the most often featured item of attire in Rembrandt self-portraits, and is ubiquitous in the works of his followers. See Marieke de Winkel, Fashion and Fancy: dress and meaning in Rembrandt’s paintings, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, c. 2006, pp. 165-167.

[8] Rima Marija Ginius, Rembrandt’s Spaces, Ph. D. dissertation, Bryn Mawr College, October, 2007, pp. 240-241.

[9] Translated from German in Rima Marija Ginius, op. cit., p. 240. For the original see Herbert Fendrich, Rembrandts Darstellungen des Emmausmahles, P. Lang, c. 1990, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 44-45.

[10] Willem Frijhoff & Marijke Spies, “Rembrandt” in Dutch Culture in a European Perspective, 1650, Royal van Gorcum, Assen, 2004, p. 515.

[11] Henry Adams, op. cit., p. 438; and Margaret Iacono, “Carel van der Pluym” in Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections, The Frick Collection, New York, February 15 – May 15, 2011, p. 67.

[12] For the Cook picture The Unmerciful Servant see (Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1983, pp. 2363, 2370, no. 1590) and the Leiden painting of a Scholar in his Studio, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1983, pp. 2366, 2383, no. 1600). W. R. Valentiner, op. cit., p. 37.

[13] For an illustration of the drawing, see Werner Sumowski, op. cit., 1979, no. 2127.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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