NEW YORK, NY.- On offer from the private collection of J.E. Safra, A Woman Embraced by a Man, is an early masterpiece by one of the most fascinating and enigmatic Dutch painters of the 17th century and is now believed to feature none other than Rembrandt van Rijn as the model for the man.
The oil on canvas was painted in 1626-1627, when Lievens was only around 20 years old, yet already established as a fully-fledged and commercially successful artist working in his native Leiden. Despite his youthful age, he was developing as a highly skilled and inventive technician at a rapid pace – so much so that he was largely considered to be more talented than his principal rival, Rembrandt.
Born in Leiden just over a year apart, both artists studied with the same master and lived near one another, yet Rembrandt’s posthumous fame as the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age has left Lievens largely in the dark. The two artists certainly learned from one another, to the point that some contemporaries found their works hard to distinguish. They also shared models and even used one another as models in their compositions. Arthur Wheelock, former curator of the Northern European Art Collection at the National Gallery of Art, has argued that the young man in the present painting is Rembrandt, based on his resemblance to other works from the same period thought to feature Rembrandt. The same figure appears, in what is likely the earliest known depiction of Rembrandt, as a smoking cardplayer in Lievens's The Cardplayers datable to 1622-3 in the Leiden Collection, New York. Though Lievens would be eclipsed by Rembrandt, A Woman Embraced by a Man captures a pivotal moment in the lives of these great artists with their ambition and camaraderie on full display.
Jan Lievens (Leiden 1607 – 1674 Amsterdam), Card Players, ca. 1625, oil on canvas, 97.5 x 105.4 cm, signed with initials in dark paint, upper left: “I.L.”, The Leiden Collection, New York, inventory number JL-102. The Leiden Collection © 2020
10 years after its inclusion in the National Gallery of Art’s show, ‘Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered,’ the work will be offered in Sotheby's Master Paintings Evening Sale on 29 January with an estimate of $4/6 million. The current record for the artist is $4.4 million set in 2007, before the major National Gallery exhibition.