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22 février 2020

The National Gallery opens the first-ever monographic exhibition devoted to Nicolaes Maes

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LONDON.- The National Gallery will stage the first-ever monographic exhibition devoted to Nicolaes Maes (1634 – 1693) in the UK. Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age will chart the career of one of the most successful artists and astute businessmen of the period, and show how a favourite pupil of Rembrandt broke away from his teacher and forged his own way through the ‘Golden Age’, paving the way for the later achievements of Vermeer.

The exhibition will bring together 48 works, comprising paintings and drawings, from a range of private and public collections. Across three rooms that reflect three distinct periods in the artist’s career, visitors will see how Maes started out as a painter of historical and biblical scenes but soon moved on to paintings of everyday life for which he is today best known, while during the last decades of his career he became one of the most sought-after portrait painters in 17th-century Holland.

Maes was one of Rembrandt’s most talented pupils and the influence the master exerted on the young artist is apparent in his early paintings of historical and biblical scenes, which will be displayed in the first room. The ambitious and large-scale 'Christ Blessing the Children', part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection, displays the sophisticated lighting effect made famous by his teacher, and it may have even been painted while the artist was still in Rembrandt’s workshop or soon after he left it. The biblical stories continue with paintings such as the 'Adoration of the Shepherds' (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) and the 'Sacrifice of Isaac' (Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada), the latter a re-working of a painting of the same subject by Rembrandt picture but with one key difference – Maes depicts the dramatic moment just before the angel stops Abraham from sacrificing his own son. Despite Rembrandt’s clear influence, the beginnings of Maes’ own distinctive style is already on display in this early period.

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Nicolaes Maes, 'Christ blessing the Children’, 1652-3. Oil on canvas, 218 x 154 cm, The National Gallery, London © The National Gallery, London.

Adoration of the Shepherds

Nicolaes Maes, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1656–8. Oil on canvas, 110.5 × 96.5 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

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Nicolaes Maes, Sacrifice of Isaac, about 1653–4. Oil on canvas, 113 × 91.5 cm, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. Purchase, Bader Acquisition Fund, 2014 (57-002) © Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada / Photo: Bernard Clark

In the second room are some of Maes’s most celebrated compositions – his ‘genre’ paintings. Having left Amsterdam to return to his native city of Dordrecht, Maes began to focus on scenes of everyday life. The selection includes three paintings of what is perhaps his most famous theme – the eavesdropper. In these paintings the central character in the scene ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and looks directly at the viewer. The eavesdropper stands at the foot of a staircase, finger raised to her lips, imploring secrecy. Through use of perspective and the layout of the interior space, Maes constructs inventive compositions in which the viewer is able to spy on the scene that the eavesdropper is intruding on. In 'The Eavesdropper' from Apsley House a servant appears to be neglecting her child-minding duties as her lover leans in through an open window. Normally, the eavesdropper in these pictures is the housewife but in 'The Eavesdropper' from the Guildhall Art Gallery, Maes has made an unusual reversal. Here, it is the servant who is hiding behind the staircase, while the housewife in a room at the back of the house is the person being spied upon. On display will also be 'Studies of Listening Figures' (Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) and further preparatory drawings which show how Maes prepared his compositions, including some figure studies executed in beautiful red chalk. 

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Nicolaes Maes, The Eavesdropper, 1655. Oil on panel, 45.7 × 72.2 cm, Harold Samuel Collection, Mansion House © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

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Nicolaes Maes, The Eavesdropper, about 1656. Oil on canvas, 57.5 × 66 cm, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House [English Heritage] © Historic England Photo Library

Studies of Listening Figures

Nicolaes Maes, Studies of Listening Figures, about 1655. Pen and brown ink, 9.8 × 19 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (former Koenigs Collection) © Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen / Photo: Studio Buitenhof Rotterdam

Although the eavesdroppers are among his most famous works during this period, the exhibition will also show Maes’s innovative way of portraying daily tasks. Mostly focused on women, Maes painted seamstresses and lacemakers carrying out domestic duties, as well as street sellers and professionals in works such as 'The Account Keeper' (Saint Louis Art Museum) and 'Woman selling Milk' (Guildhall Art Gallery), often with an unusual tranquility. But he still returned to his eavesdropper theme in paintings like 'A Sleeping Man having his Pockets picked' (Center for Netherlandish Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which depicts a woman stealing from a sleeping man while looking at the viewer and again imploring silence. In his genre paintings Maes may well have wanted to convey moral messages, either by underlining the virtue of domestic tasks or by making fun of those who overindulge and neglect their duties. But the moral is always expressed in a light-hearted fashion.

 

The Account Keeper

Nicolaes Maes, The Account Keeper, 1656. Oil on canvas, 66 × 53.7 cm, Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase © Saint Louis Art Museum.

Woman selling Milk

Nicolaes Maes, Woman selling Milk, about 1656. Oil on panel, 55.9 × 41.9 cm, Harold Samuel Collection, Mansion House, London © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

A Sleeping Man having his Pockets picked (3)

Nicolaes Maes, A Sleeping Man having his Pockets picked, about 1656. Oil on panel, 35.6 × 30.5 cm, Promised Gift of Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo, in support of the Center of Netherlandish Art Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: © 2019 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1673 Maes returned to Amsterdam and began a very prolific period in which he became one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his time, producing some 900 portraits. Compared to the small number of history and genre paintings that exist, it demonstrates how Maes was a working artist who also understood the business side of painting. The third and final room will be dedicated to these portraits, showing how his style developed to reflect the prevailing fashion of the late 17th century. He constructed extravagant backgrounds to complement the heroic and increasingly extravagant poses of his sitters. In 'Portrait of a Boy as a Hunter' a young boy stands in classical costume with a bird perched on his hand and a dog leaping at his side. In 'Portrait of a Girl with a Deer' a girl in a bright blue dress, standing in the middle of a forest, drapes an arm over a deer. Maes’s journey towards portraiture reflects a general trend during the later 17th century towards a more decorative and brighter style.

Portrait of a Boy as a Hunter

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of a Boy as a Hunter, 1671. Oil on canvas, 132.4 × 102 cm, Private Collection © 2006 Christie’s Images Limited

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Nicolaes Maes, 'Portrait of a Girl with a Deer', about 1671. Oil on canvas, 132.4 × 102 cm, Private Collection © 2006 Christie’s Images Limited

Some of the portraits in the final room will be displayed in their original frames which, in some cases, include imagery that alludes to the sitter’s life. It is rare for the original frames of 17th-century paintings to have survived, but in the case of Maes several have retained their original frames, showing how they formed an integral part of how sitters wanted themselves to be seen. The room will reunite four portraits from the same family – 'Portrait of Simon van Alphen' (Rijksmuseum), 'Portrait of Beatrix van Alphen' (Private Collection, Monaco), 'Portrait of Dirk van Alphen' and 'Portrait of Maria Magdalena van Alphen' (both Galerie Neuse, Bremen), all in their original frames. Painted around 1677 they show what the wealthier classes in 17th-century Holland aspired to and why they solicited the services of Maes, who was at the pinnacle of his career as a portraitist.

Portrait of Simon van Alphen

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Simon van Alphen (1650-1730), about 1677. Oil on canvas, 71.5 × 57.2 cm, Rijksmuseum. C.H. de Koning Bequest, The Hague © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Portrait of Beatrix van Alphen

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Beatrix van Alphen (1672-1728), 1677. Oil on canvas, 70.5 × 59 cm, Private Collection, Monaco © Photo courtesy of the owner / Photo: Margareta Svensson.

Portrait of Dirk van Alphen

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Dirk van Alphen (1652-1701), about 1677. Oil on canvas, 69 × 55 cm, GALERIE NEUSE, Bremen/Germany © FOTO GALERIE NEUSE, BREMEN.

Portrait of Maria Magdalena van Alphen

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Maria Magdalena van Alphen (1656-1723), about 1677. Oil on canvas, 69 × 55 cm, GALERIE NEUSE, Bremen/Germany © FOTO GALERIE NEUSE, BREMEN.

Another works exhibited:

The Holy Family with a Curtain

Attributed to Nicolaes Maes, The Holy Family with a Curtain, late 1640s. Black and red chalk, brown wash on vellum, 22.8 × 27.9 cm The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Presented by Sir Karl Parker, 1986. © The Ashmolean Museum of Art, University of Oxford.

The Holy Family, late 1640s

Attributed to Nicolaes Maes, The Holy Family, late 1640s. Black and red chalk, pen and black ink, brown and grey wash on paper, 19.2 × 28.7 cm, The British Museum, London. 1895,0915.1200 © The Trustees of The British Museum.

Absalom becomes Entangled in the Branches of a Tree

Attributed to Nicolaes Maes, Absalom becomes Entangled in the Branches of a Tree, early 1650s. Pen and brown ink, brown wash on paper, 20.9 × 32.3 cm. Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

The Death of Absalom

Attributed to Nicolaes Maes, The Death of Absalom, early 1650s. Pen and brown ink, brown wash on paper, 20.8 × 32.2 cm. Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Hilly Landscape

Attributed to Nicolaes Maes, Hilly Landscape, early 1650s. Pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash on paper, 14.5 × 19.7 cm. Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Christ blessing the Children, 1652–3

Nicolaes Maes, Christ blessing the Children, 1652–3. Pen and brown ink, brown wash, red chalk, corrections in white bodycolour (partly oxidised) on paper, 22.3 × 19.5 cm. Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Christ blessing the Children, recto

Nicolaes Maes, Christ blessing the Children, recto, about 1652–3. Pen and brown ink on paper, 20.4 × 17.8 cm, The British Museum, London © The Trustees of The British Museum.

Christ blessing the Children, verso

Nicolaes Maes, Christ blessing the Children, verso, about 1652–3. Pen and brown ink on paper, 20.4 × 17.8 cm, The British Museum, London © The Trustees of The British Museum.

Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael (2)

Nicolaes Maes, Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, 1653. Oil on canvas, 87.6 × 69.9 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Edward Brayton, 1971, (1971.73) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Study of a Reclining Boy

Nicolaes Maes, Study of a Reclining Boy, 1653.  Black and red chalk, pen and brown ink, brown and grey wash, corrections in white bodycolour on paper, 18.6 × 23.8 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum. Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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Nicolaes Maes, 'Girl at a Window', 1653–5. Oil on canvas, 123 × 96 cm, Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Young Woman at a Cradle (2)

Nicolaes Maes, Young Woman at a Cradle, 1653–5. Oil on canvas, 33.8 × 28.8 cm, Rijksmuseum. De Bruijn-van der Leeuw Bequest, Muri, Switzerland © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Young Woman sewing

Nicolaes Maes, Young Woman sewing, 1655. Oil on panel, 55.6 × 46.1 cm, Harold Samuel Collection, Mansion House, London © Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

The Listening Housewife (2)

Nicolaes Maes, The Listening Housewife (The Eavesdropper), 1655. Oil on panel, 74.9 × 60.4 cm, Royal Collection Trust / HM The Queen. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Interior with a Woman on a Staircase

Nicolaes Maes, Interior with a Woman on a Staircase, about 1655. Pen and brown ink, brown wash on paper, 10.2 × 9.2 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (former Koenigs Collection), R 62 (PK) © Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen / Photo: Studio Buitenhof Rotterdam.

A Young Woman making Lace

Nicolaes Maes, A Young Woman making Lace, about 1655. Red chalk on paper, 14.1 × 11.8 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen © Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen / Photo: Studio Buitenhof Rotterdam.

The Apostle Thomas

Nicolaes Maes, The Apostle Thomas, 1656. Oil on canvas, 120 × 90.3 cm, Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen. Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister © Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

Young Mother with her Children

Nicolaes Maes, Young Mother with her Children, about 1656. Oil on canvas, 62 × 66.4 cm, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 241 (1930.56) © Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid.

The Old Lacemaker

Nicolaes Maes, The Old Lacemaker, about 1656. Oil on panel, 38.8 × 35.9 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague, purchased with the support of the Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation, the VSB Foundation The Hague and the Rembrandt Association, 1994 © Mauritshuis, The Hague / Photo: Margareta Svensson.

Two Women at a Window

Nicolaes Maes, Two Women at a Window, about 1656. Oil on panel, 57.3 × 41.6 cm, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, on loan from the Cultural Heritage Agency, 1948 © Dordrechts Museum.

Interior with an Eavesdropper on a Staircase

Nicolaes Maes, Interior with an Eavesdropper on a Staircase, about 1656. Pen and brown ink, corrections in white bodycolour on paper, 17.5 × 17.5 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (former Koenigs Collection) © Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen / Photo: Studio Buitenhof Rotterdam.

An Old Woman mending a Cap

Nicolaes Maes, An Old Woman mending a Cap, about 1656. Red chalk on paper, 15.6 × 11.9 cm, Rijksmuseum. Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Study of an Old Woman and the Head of a Young Woman

Nicolaes Maes, Study of an Old Woman and the Head of a Young Woman, about 1656. Red chalk on paper, 19.3 × 19.8 cm, Rijksmuseum. On loan from the Dienst voor's Rijks Verspreide Kunstvoorwerpen © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Study of an Old Woman

Nicolaes Maes, Study of an Old Woman, about 1656. Red chalk on paper, 13 × 11.3 cm. Loan from the Rijksmuseum © Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

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Nicolaes Maes, ‘A Young Girl threading a Needle’, 1657. Private Collection © Photo courtesy of the owner / Photo: Antonia Reeve.

Portrait of Jacob Trip

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Jacob Trip (c.1576-1661), 1665. Oil on canvas, 121.8 × 100.5 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague © Mauritshuis, The Hague / Photo: Margareta Svensson.

Portrait of Margaretha de Geer

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Margaretha de Geer (1583-1672), 1669 Oil on canvas, 116 × 85 cm, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Acquired with the support of the Rembrandt Association, Friends of the Dordrechts Museum, and an individual donor from Dordrecht, 1997 © Dordrechts Museum.

Portrait of Jacob Binckes

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Jacob Binckes (c.1640-1677), about 1676. Oil on canvas, 43.8 × 32.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911 (11.149.2) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Portrait of Ingena Rotterdam

Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of Ingena Rotterdam (-1704), 1676. Oil on canvas, 43.8 × 33 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911 (11.149.3) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Self-portrait

Nicolaes Maes, Self-portrait, 1680–5. Oil on canvas, 62 × 48 cm, Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum © Dordrechts Museum.

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