notes, finds & fragments of research
Sotheby’s, Old Master and British Paintings Day Sale,
London 8 December 2011,
Lot 227 (estimation: 50,000-70,000 GBP)
If I have to believe the provenance (and I do, because why lie about it?) it was on the market before. Who on earth would ever sell this after only just fifteen years of enjoying it! Come to think of it, why not? We do exchange several houses during our lifetime. But I can’t help but to feel a little sorry for the people on it; therefore I named this House for Sale (owners included)
The catalogue note gives that this is a collaborative portrait of a family by Gillis van Tilborgh and Jan Siberechts, both Flemish arts who made careers in England. However! The people on the portrait undoubtedly represent a Netherlandish family. It would be quite easy to frown upon ‘Netherlandish’ – Dutch would suffice, I’d say. But what’s with the undoubtedly? Is it because they are traditionally identified as the Van der Witte family? Because we all know ‘traditional’ identifications are worth as much as the memory of old aunts on a sherry laced Sunday afternoon. I cannot imagine Sotheby’s would dare to put the ‘undoubtedly’ there just because of that. So the only other reason I can come up with is the way they look. They look a bit frumpy, so yes, they could be Dutch I guess.
Honestly? Yes the clothing is typically 17th century Dutch and I have seen this type of painting before in Holland; even in collections from Dutch families who commissioned the painting themselves. But nearly always it’s about the house and not about the little group of people in front. Some of them have brought great anecdotes though. I will at some point write about a ‘lord of the manor’ in his carriage.
I remember visiting a friend in Utrecht who has a similar painting of his ancestral home (which no longer exists and the former estate is now part of what we call ‘Grand Suburbia’). As I was doing research at the time after another similar painting I asked him ‘Do you actually know if these people are your relatives?’ And he made the most brilliant remark as he leaned over to look at them once more: ‘Oh God, no. Don’t be silly. My ancestors were much more attractively looking.’ We then came to the conclusion that they were either some people from the village or the painter’s family, but definitely not relatives – Oh God, no…
In this case, however, they do take a prominent place in the whole setting. And that could be another reason for thinking they are Dutch. I can just hear the pater familias after hearing the cost for a few portraits of his family: ‘How much, you say? (…) Right that is quite the amount of florins, money does not grow on trees you know, couldn’t we perhaps make a deal? (…) Look, you have this friend who does these landscapes too, have you not? (…) Right, I will pay you both for a landscape of my estate, with my family in it.’
Oh yes, undoubtedly Dutch they are.
And for this type of wealthy mercantile family, known for building estates like this and commissioning paintings like this, they do look a bit frumpy, don’t you think? The men and the boy I can’t really criticize, but the woman… seriously; there’s being Calvinist and overdoing it. On the other hand, if you look closely you can see there is a certain kind of subtlety to her attire. While exploring the zoom-option I did find the collier she’s wearing and noticed the brocade and satin fabric a bit more. the little girl in the middle has a nice set of sleeves there, despite of the apron. And so does her sister holding the flowers. I take it back, partially, the mother might be lost by means of her own upbringing but there’s still hope for the daughters who are probably the second generation of standing
All in all, I would keep it. I just wonder, and this will haunt me for years to come, are they really the Van der Witte family and if so, then somebody must have been clever enough to find out which estate it is.
They are now on my long list of ‘when I’m done with the rest’ to look into the matter of the family and the estate. I just hope the new owner will keep it for a while; have pity on the people you got with the house. And please, do enjoy those gardens, they seem to have been laid out with such care and of course accordingly to the fashionable French formal style