Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


PIETER CHRISTOFFEL WONDER (Utrecht 1777 – Amsterdam 1852)

Eene Oliekoekenbakster bij Kaarslicht (A Doughnut Maker by Candlelight)

signed and dated P. C. Wonder. F 1815 in the lower center

oil on panel

15 x 12 ¾ inches   (38.4 x 32.6 cm.)


C. Jacopssen, Brussels

C. Jacopssen sale, Catalogue d’une Riche Collection de Tableaux, Capitaux et de Premier Ordre des Écoles Modernes Flamande, Hollandaise et Française, Barbe, Brussels, October 29, 1841, lot 79, where bought by

Lambert-Jean Nieuwenhuys, Brussels

Catalogue des Tableaux du Cabinet de Feu M. Jean-Lambert Nieuwenhuys, père, Vergote & De Doncker, Brussels, April 3, 1862, lot 19, where bought by

Etienne Le Roy, Brussels

J. P. Gilkinet, Liége

“Catalogue de Tableaux Anciens et Modernes des Écoles Flamande, Hollandaise et Française appartenant à M. Gilkinet”, Drouot, Paris, April 18, 1863, lot 20

Private Collection, New York, by December 1981



(presumably) Amsterdam, Tentoonstelling der Kunstwerken van Levende Nederlandsche Meesters, October 1816, no. 204



(presumably) Vries, “Beschouwingen van de tentoonstellingen der Kunstwerken van levende meesters, in October 1816, te Amsterdam” in Vaderlandsche Letter – Oefeningen of Tijdschrift van Kunsten en Wetenschappen waarin de Boeken en Schriften, G. S. Leeneman van den Kroe & J. W. Ijntema, Amsterdam, 1816, p. 768

(presumably) “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” in Lijst der Kunstwerken van nog in leven zijnde Nederlandsche meesters, welke zijn toegelaten tot de tentoonstelling van den jare 1816, Amsterdam, 1816-1817, no. 204 (titled Eene Oliekoekenbakster, bij Kaarslicht)

Ernest Fillonneau, “Vente de Tableaux, Appartenant à M. Gilkinet” in Moniteur des Arts, no. 320, April 11, 1863, unpaginated

G. Franchemont, “Revue des Ventes Publiques, Collection de M. Gilkinet, de Liége” in Moniteur des Arts, no. 323, April 22, 1863, no. 20, unpaginated

“Mouvement des Arts, Vente Gilkinet” in La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, volume I, Supplément à la Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1863, p. 201

H. Mireur, “Pierre-Christophe Wonder” in Dictionnaire des Ventes D’Art Faites en France et à l’Etranger pendant Les XVIIIe & XIXe Siècles, volume 7, Maison D’Éditions D’Oeuvres Artistiques, 1912, p. 539

E. Bènèzit, “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, volume 10, Libraire Gründ, Paris, 1976, p. 789

(presumably) Margreet Algra, Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1777-1852): Een Utrechtse Kunstenaar en Zign Milieu, Ph.D. dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, June 1997, pp. 21, 139


After nightfall, by the illumination of a large lantern, a doughnut-maker surrounded by a group of five children is hard at work. Sheltered under a ragged tarp, an old woman seated on a wooden chair grasps in her left hand an oil-filled skillet set on a trivet while her right hand stokes the flames below. Next to the frying pan is a large bowl of batter. In the right foreground, a young boy peers longingly at the baker with his left hand stuck in what must be an empty pocket. To his right, prudence versus temptation, a small girl stands in contemplation of a coin held in her open palm. In the center background, much to the chagrin of his companions, a boy eagerly bites into his doughnut. Known at the time as olie-koeken, they were balls of dough that were deep-fried and were the forerunners of the modern doughnut. Commonly, they could contain raisins, apples, and almonds. Olie-koeken, along with such other treats as waffles, wafers, and pancakes were regarded as celebratory foods, cooked at home as well as sold on the street and at fairs by bakers that were typically women.[1] This panel was executed in 1815 at the height of Wonder’s popularity in the Netherlands. It was probably first exhibited in Amsterdam at the 1816 Tentoonstelling der Kunstwerken van Levende Nederlandsche Meesters under the title of Eene Oliekoekenbakster, bij Kaarslicht. These exhibitions, which after 1814 were only held every two years, were intended to display recent works by the contributors. Catalog descriptions lacked size or support details, but in this case the title and appropriate date certainly match. In the Vanderlandsche Letter – Oefeningen 1816 review, the painting is noted for its pleasing candlelight effect and evocation of Dutch seventeenth century art.[2] In this work Wonder recalls Gabriel Metsu’s imagery bathed in the light of Godfried Schalcken.[3]

In 1841 this work was included in the sale of modern Flemish, Dutch, and French paintings of C. Jacopssen of Brussels. The Barbe catalog described the group as one of the most valuable collections of contemporary paintings formed during the period, composed of painters of the “première ligne” (highest order).[4] There the Wonder was acquired by Lambert-Jean Nieuwenhuys (1777-1862) who at the time was regarded as the prince of Belgian art dealers. A painter and art restorer as well, he established an art-dealing dynasty that passed on to his son Christianus Johannes Nieuwenhuys. King William II of the Netherlands was one of his clients. Today important paintings that include his name in their provenance can be found in prominent collections throughout the world.[5] Shortly after his death in 1862 an auction of paintings from his collection was held in Brussels. Among the most active buyers at the sale was Etienne Le Roy (1808-1878) whose purchases included the Wonder.

Le Roy had a history of acquiring works from important collections. A renowned expert and art dealer, in 1846 by ministerial decree he was appointed commissaire-expert of the Museé Royal de Peinture et de Sculpture in Brussels, a position he held for the rest of his life. The museum regularly asked his opinion on the attribution, quality, and price of works of art under consideration for acquisition. Le Roy was responsible for some of the most important art sales that took place in Brussels from the 1840s through 1875, and maintained several locations in the city as well as a branch in Paris. In the nineteenth century tremendous weight was given to the history of a painting, as an illustrious provenance was viewed as a confirmation of the work’s value as well as a positive reflection on the buyer’s acumen. Each painting that Le Roy sold was accompanied by a handwritten guarantee that included biographical information on the artist, and a very detailed description of the work, as well as a record of previous owners.[6]

The Wonder must have sold quite quickly as the following year it was part of the estate sale of the Liége lawyer J. P. Gilkinet. For this auction held at Drouot in Paris, Le Roy catalogued the sale as well as wrote the introduction. Consisting of both old and modern paintings, the auction was heralded in the press as a rare opportunity for collectors to purchase true treasures.[7] Its subsequent success was also reported. The painting then vanished from public record for the next 118 years until it was acquired by a New York collector in 1981.

Pieter Christoffel Wonder was born in Utrecht and as the oldest son of John Jacob Wonder and Anna Geertruy Bargfeld, was destined to join the family’s thriving tannery. These plans were thwarted by Wonder’s artistic talent, recognized early on by such as the important collector Jean Aarnout Bennet of Leiden who purchased a work. Until the age of twenty-five, Wonder seems to have been mainly self-taught. In 1802 he left for Düsseldorf where he studied at the Kurfürstlich-Pfälzische Academy. Wonder also spent a great deal of time copying works at the picture gallery of the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm II, especially those of Rubens and Van Dyck. By 1804 he had returned to Utrecht. There in 1807 along with other artists including Jan Kobell II, he established the Kunstliefde Society. The intent of the organization was to instill a love for painting and drawing among professionals and amateurs alike. Wonder concentrated on painting portraits as well as historical scenes and genre in the manner of Dutch seventeenth century artists. Works by Gerard Terborch, Pieter de Hooch, Casper Netscher and Johannes Vermeer were his main sources of inspiration.[8] His candlelight scenes proved particularly popular.

In 1810 Wonder exhibited for the first time at the Tentoonstelling van Levende Meesters (Exhibition of Living Masters) in Amsterdam. Included in his entries was a painting of Father Time now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inventory no. A1163). During a visit to Dordrecht in 1812, Wonder painted portraits of the artists and brothers Abraham and Jacob van Strij, now in the Dordrechts Museum (inventory nos. DM/853/64 and DM/868/63). In 1817 at the annual competition of the Felix Meritis Society in Amsterdam, he was awarded a gold medal for his painting of a musical group. During this period he also taught William Pieter Hoevenaar, Abraham Hendrik Winter, and Christiaan Kramm.[9] Besides painting, Wonder worked as an etcher, draftsman, and watercolorist.

Encouraged by the wealthy Scottish art collector Sir John Murray, Wonder moved to London in 1824. There he specialized in portraits and conversation pieces that depicted the British aristocracy. His most famous painting from the period is Sir John Murray’s Art Gallery (private collection, England) for which three oil sketches are in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Done to commemorate the founding of London’s National Gallery, the painting depicts an imagined gallery hung with artworks from famous British collections. Gathered around Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne are George Watson Taylor (a collector of Italian Renaissance paintings), Sir John Murray, the Rev. William Holwell-Carr (art dealer and benefactor to the National Gallery), and Wonder.[10] Following Murray’s demise in 1827 commissions dried up and the painter was forced to return to Utrecht in 1832. Once home, Wonder continued to paint mainly portraits and group pieces in the same fashion that had brought him fame in England, but such works came to be increasingly viewed as dated against the growing artistic movements of Romanticism and Realism. By the 1840s, patrons had all but disappeared, and by the time of his death in 1852, he was almost completely forgotten.[11] Museums not previously mentioned that have works by the artist include those of Vlissingen, Leiden, The Hague, Otterlo, Paris, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.

We would like to thank Fred G. Meijer of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, and the food historian Peter G. Rose for their much appreciated assistance in the writing of this entry.



[1] Peter G. Rose, “Dutch Foodways: An American Connection”, pp. 20, 25; in Matters of Taste, Food and Drink in Seventeenth Century Dutch Art and Life, Albany Institute of History & Art, Syracuse University Press, 2002, pp. 20, 25; and Donna R. Barnes, “Egbert van der Poel, A Pancake Woman,” in Ibid, p. 110.

[2] “De harmonie was beter in het Kaarslicht of de Oliekoekenbakster, hetwelk juist in den ftijl der ouden, de ware nadering van onzen gelukkigen tijd tot dien van het midden der zeventiende eeuw ons deed kennen” in Vaderlandsche Letter-Oefeningen, op. cit., p. 768.

[3] Written communication from Fred G. Meijer of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, dated June 28, 2015.

[4] C. Jacopssen sale, “Introduction”, op.cit., unpaginated.

[5] Noah Charney, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, Perseus Books Group, New York, 2010, pp. 106-107; and “Lambertus Johannes Nieuwenhuys” on (RKD Explore) website.

[6] Katherine Baetjer, “Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871” in Metropolitan Museum Journal, 39, 2004, pp. 164-165, 172, 181, 183.

[7] Ernest Fillonneau, op. cit., unpaginated.

[8] Biographical information taken from John Denison Champlin, Jr. & Charles C. Perkins, eds., “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” in Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, volume IV, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900, p. 446; Pieter A. Scheen, “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750-1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen BV, ’s-Gravenhage, p. 593; “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” on (RKD Explore) website; and “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” on Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 1780-1830, website.

[9] “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” on Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 1780-1830, op. cit..

[10] Walter Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, volume I, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p. 438; and “Pieter Christoffel Wonder, Study for Patrons and Lovers of Art” on website.

[11] “Pieter Christoffel Wonder” on Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 1780-1830, op. cit..

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