LAWRENCE STEIGRAD FINE ARTS

Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits

 
 
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JACQUES VAILLANT (Amsterdam 1643 - Berlin 1691)

Portrait of a Boy as a Hunter Holding a Boar Spear with a Greyhound

signed J. vaillant Fecit in the lower left

oil on canvas

61 5/16 x 43 1/16 inches          (157.3 x 109.3 cm.)


PROVENANCE

Anonymous Sale, B. Wild, Utrecht, April 22, 1811, lot 121

Samuel Rubel, Ridgefield, Connecticut

The Luxurious Furniture and Appointments of the Samuel Rubel Mansion, Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, October 11-14, 1950, lot 786

Furniture and Decorations for the Country House and Garden, Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, June 13-14, 1951, lot 301

Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.

Anonymous sale, Important Old Master Paintings, Sotheby Parke-Bernet Inc., New York, March 6-7, 1975, lot 194 where purchased by

Private Collection, Alexandria, Louisiana, and thus by descent in the family until 2014

Set in a park in an Italianate landscape, a boy stands atop a hill at sunset flanked by a greyhound to his left and a statue of a putto to his right. He is magnificently outfitted in an exotic hunting costume, shod in buskins and brandishing a boar spear. Posed with his left hand on his hip, he exudes confidence. His gaze directly engages the viewer. Datable to the mid-1670’s, this coincides with the period Jacques Vaillant resided in Berlin when working for the court of Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg. Although undoubtedly a child of the aristocracy, the identity of the sitter is unknown, yet the manner in which the painter has chosen to portray him is extremely revealing.

Clothed in a brown satin overcoat with red patterning and a border studded with pearls, his matching breeches are cuffed with pearls. Around his waist is a red and white fringed woolen sash decorated with metal balls and large tassels. A metal buckle fastens the overcoat across his chest, and metal buckles tether strips of red satin to his sleeves with a hint of a white linen shirt underneath. A matching doublet with a suggestion of lace trim beneath the coat is discernible. Buskins were leather sandals worn by hunters or soldiers in ancient Greece or Rome. Our young hunter’s sandals are decorated with pearls, heart-shaped tabs, and tied with red stones that resemble pairs of cherries. The profusion of pearls in the boy’s clothing is of course indicative of the family’s wealth. Pearls were also viewed as emblematic of purity, innocence and perfection.[1] The allusion to cherries, called the Fruit of Paradise, was often found in children’s portraits of the seventeenth century. It is believed to symbolize the sitter’s youth and the wish for fruitfulness in the child’s future.[2] The trace of lace on his doublet is a further mark of prosperity as lace at this point was often more costly than woven fabrics or jewelry.[3]

Obviously not intended to reflect suitable hunting attire, the outfit is meant to evoke the antique and inject an element of timelessness into the portrayal. Further, the right to hunt had long been an exclusive privilege of the nobility. Boar-hunting was a pursuit particularly fraught with danger, one which required enormous strength and fortitude. In the seventeenth century wild boars were generally much larger than those found today, as it was not unusual for their weight to range from 300-600 pounds and their length to run over seven feet.[4] The lovely passage of the greyhound nuzzling his young master’s hand and the boy’s responsive smile mitigates the supposed fierceness of this young hunter. Pets were routinely painted in these works[5], but greyhounds were a breed known for their hunting prowess.[6] Further the dog is a metaphor, often found in children’s portraits of the period, symbolic of docility and the need to rein in natural tendencies. This could be accomplished for both child and dog only through instruction and education. The quality of docility was also intended to refer to the development of traits that would form good and honorable character.[7] 

To the boy’s right a statue of a putto holding a bunch of grapes is mounted on a stone pedestal. Such images were usually emblematic of autumn and the ensuing harvesting of grapes.[8] In this case it has an additional meaning as a bunch of grapes was another traditional symbol for fruitfulness. It conveys not only a wish for a happy full life for the child, but is also symbolic of the success of his parents’ union. The perfection of the raised grape is further reflective of the concept that the child should be well bred. It was believed of central importance to a fruitful marriage, not so much the quantity, but the quality of the children produced.[9]

Along similar lines of thought are the symmetrical twin trees in the distant valley. Derived from the teachings of Plutarch, the trees are emblematic of a proper upbringing through guidance and training. Claes Bruin summarized this concept in De lustplaats Soelen, “That the pruning of the vineyard and of all trees is a symbol of children’s discipline requires no other evidence than nature itself; for without the necessary work, the gardener would wait in vain for fruit just as parents who neglect this necessary duty shall rarely observe the fruits of piety and virtue in their children, but, on the contrary, shall find instead the putrid grapes of the basest needs.”[10]

The park-like setting of a country estate serves as a further revelation about the family’s status. The inclusion in the background of such references to antiquity as the putto, the Greek temple, Roman bridge and Egyptian pyramid stems from the popularity of pastoral literature during this period, which presented a vision of Arcadia as a paradise, free of the mundane tribulations of daily life, particularly those encountered in town and court.[11] By painting the light in these works to reflect sunset, the suggestion of tranquility and the antique were heightened.[12] Dressed in a princely manner, perched on a hill overlooking enviable terrain, our young sitter embodies the hopes, dreams and aspirations all families hold for their children.

Jacques (also called Jacob) Vaillant was the son of Jean Vaillant and his second wife, Clara Bouchet. He was baptized in Amsterdam on December 6, 1643. Two of his brothers from his father’s first marriage were the painters Wallerant, with whom it is believed Jacques trained, and Jean. From the second marriage brother Bernard was a portraitist as well as an engraver, and the youngest, André, an engraver of portraits. From 1664-1666 Jacques was in Rome working with a group of mainly Dutch and Flemish artists called the Bentvueghels (Birds of a Feather) where he received the nickname Leeuwerik (Lark). From 1666-1670 he was once more working in Amsterdam and partly in Rotterdam. He specialized in religious, mythological and historical subjects as well as portraits and executed engravings. By 1670 Vaillant was in The Hague and joined Confrerie Pictura, where he remained until 1672 when he left for Berlin.[13]

It is not surprising that Vaillant worked at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg who attended the University of Leiden from 1634 to 1637. Friedrich Wilhelm married Louisa Henrietta, Countess of Nassau the daughter of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange. Fittingly he was an enthusiast of Dutch painting and patronized such artists as Jan Lievens and Willem van Honthorst as well as Pieter Nason[14] who would have been at the court when Vaillant arrived. In 1682 Vaillant traveled to Hanover. He was also sent by the Elector to Vienna to paint the portrait of Emperor Leopold I who presented him with a gold medal and chain.[15]

Time as well as the wide dispersal and inaccessibility of Vaillant’s works have served to obscure his reputation. Arnold Houbraken noted in De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen that Vaillant had achieved much fame by the time he died.[16] In 1860 Dr. Gustav Friedrich Waagen, then director of the Royal Gallery of Pictures in Berlin, wrote of the painter, “he has left works in the residences of Berlin, Potsdam and Charlottenburg which prove him to have been one of the best portrait painters of his time”.[17] Thieme-Becker recorded paintings by Vaillant in the Berliner Stadtschloss (bridal chamber ceiling); Charlottenburg Palace; Schloss Königsberg; Schloss Oranienbaum; Neues Palais, Potsdam; Stadtschloss Potsdam; Schloss Schwedt; and Schloss Wilhelmshöhe.[18] Museums that have paintings by Vaillant include those of Cambrai, Celle, Geneva, Hannover and Prague. The rediscovery of Jacques Vaillant’s Portrait of a Boy as a Hunter proves the validity of the past testimonials.

Over a period of four days in 1950 Parke-Bernet Galleries held a sale of the contents of Sunset Hall, Ridgefield, Connecticut, the home of Samuel Rubel and his wife, Dora, in which the Vaillant was included. Sunset Hall had been built circa 1912 by James Stokes a United States Ambassador. The mansion was situated on a 110 acre estate and had 19 rooms including a sunken ballroom with spectacular views. Rubel (1881-1949), born in Riga, Latvia, had arrived penniless in New York at the age of twenty-one and first worked as a peddler of ice and coal in Brooklyn. Astonishingly he eventually grew his business into a conglomerate called the Rubel Corporation which consisted of 35 coal pockets, 40 ice factories and ice stations throughout New York City. He later acquired the Ebling Brewery in the Bronx. A supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, in 1949 Rubel donated 1,200 acres around Stillwater Lake, Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania, to create Camp Minsi, which is still very much in use today.[19] 

The Vaillant’s next owner was Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., (1909-1988) son of renowned automobile executive, Walter P. Chrysler. Ron Kuchta, Director of the Everson Museum, in a tribute after his death wrote, “Like his father, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., was an accessible man. He too, was down to earth about people, details, and mechanics, but visionary and dramatic about his dreams and appetites. His appetite for art was principal and foremost and he was stimulated, intellectually as well as emotionally, by art alone. He probably thought of himself as the greatest collector of his generation; there are few others who collected as much over as many years with such determination and such a broad range of interests”.[20] Chrysler served as the first chairman of the Museum of Modern Art’s Library Committee and played an important role in its development in New York City. He founded the Chrysler Art Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1958, later relocating it to Norfolk, Virginia, and merging it with the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences under the new name Chrysler Museum in 1971.[21] He further appears to have been quite enamored with the “action” of the art market, an involvement that seems to have accelerated in the early 1950’s after the sale of the Chrysler Building in New York. During this period he acquired the Vaillant and also developed an overall appreciation of Baroque works. Other interests pursued by Chrysler at this time included School of Paris paintings, then Art Nouveau and Art Deco, American paintings, glass and furniture, causing all the various collections to be in a constant state of flux, which in all likelihood led to the Vaillant’s eventual deaccessioning.[22]

 

 

[1] Jack Tresidder, ed. “Pearls” in The Complete Dictionary of Symbols, Chronicle Books, L.L.C., 2004, p. 277.

[2] James Hall, “Cherry” in Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1979, p. 330; and Rudi Ekkart, “Girl with a Basket of Cherries” in Pride and Joy, Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500-1700, exhibition catalog, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, October 7- December 31, 2000, p. 100.

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

[4] W. A. Baillie-Grohman, “Sports in the Seventeenth Century” in The Century, volume 54, no. 3, July, 1897, pp. 392, 394, 396.

[5] Annemarieke Willemsen, “Images of Toys, The Culture of Play in the Netherlands around 1600,” in Pride and Joy, op. cit., p. 62.

[6] William Secord, Dog Painting 1840-1940, A Social History of the Dog in Art, Including an important historical overview from earliest times to 1840 when pure-bred dogs became popular, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, 1995, pp. 46-47.

[7] Jan Baptist Bedaux, The Reality of Symbols, Gary Schwartz, SDU Publications, The Hague, 1990, pp. 113, 119-120.

[8] Arnold A. White, The Artful Hermitage, The Palazzetto Farnese as a Counter-reformation Diaeta, L’Erma di Bretschneider, Rome, p. 38.

[9] Jan Baptist Bedaux, op. cit., pp. 103, 132.

[10]  Jan Baptist Bedaux, “Discipline Bears Fruit” in Pride and Joy, op. cit., pp. 20-21.

[11]  James Hall, “Arcadia” in Dictionary of Subject and Symbols in Art, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1979, pp. 30-31; and Alison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia. Pastoral Art and its Audience in the Golden Age, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983, pp. 10-11, 70-71.

[12]  Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece, Rowmant Allenheld Publishers, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983, pp. 62-63.

[13]  Biographical information taken from George C. Williamson, ed., “Andre Vaillant”, “Bernard Vaillant”, “Jacques Vaillant”, “Jean Vaillant”, and “Wallerant Vaillant” in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, volume V, Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY, 1903-1904, p. 225; Dr. Alfred von Wurzbach, “Jacques Vaillant” in Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon, volume L-Z, Verlag von Holm und Goldmann, Vienna, 1910, p. 733; Francois Gerard Waller, “Jacques Vaillant” in Biographisch woordenboek van Noord Nederlandsche graveurs, Nijhoff, ’s-Gravenhage, 1938, pp. 331-332; Erik Löffler, “Jacques Vaillant” in Haagse schilders in de Gouden Eeuw: het Hoogsteder Lexicon van alle schilders werkzaam in Den Haag 1600-1700, Waanders, Zwolle, c. 1998, p. 352; and “Jacob Vaillant”, Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age, University of Amsterdam website.

[14]  Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Toward a Geography of Art, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2004, p. 124.

[15]  Biographical information taken from “Jacques Vaillant” in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, op. cit., p. 225; R. H. Wilenski, “Jacques Vaillant” in Flemish Painters 1430-1830, volume I, Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1960, p. 673; and Erik Löffler, op. cit., p. 352.

[16]  Arnold Houbraken, “Jacques Vaillant” in De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, J. Swart, C. Boucquet & M. Gaillard, ’s Gravenhage, 1753, p. 105.

[17]  Dr. Waagen, Handbook of Painting the German, Flemish and Dutch Schools, Based on the Handbook of Kugler, part II, John Murray, London, 1860, p. 317.

[18]  Thieme-Becker, “Jacques Vaillant” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume XXXIV, Veb E. A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1940, p. 42.

[19]  Biographical information taken from “Peddled Coal, Rose in Fabulous Career” in The Canadian Jewish Review, May 20, 1949, p. 7; Ridgefield History website; and Camp Minsi website.

[20]  Ron Kuchta, “Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., An Appreciation” in The Estate of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. Old Master and 19th Century Paintings, Sotheby’s, New York, June 1, 1989, unpaginated

[21]  Biographical information taken from Craig Wolff, “Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., a Collector of Modern Art and Artifacts, 79” in The New York Times, September 19, 1988; and Dartmouth College website.

[22]  Rob Kuchta, op. cit..

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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