Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Art of Frans van Mieris

Frans van Mieris "The Duet", 1658 oil on panel
unframed: 31.5 x 24.6 cm (12 3/8 x 9 11/16)
Staatliches Museum, Schwerin

Amorous Intrigues and Painterly Refinement: The Art of Frans van Mieris
was the first retrospective exhibition devoted exclusively to the work of this influential 17th-century Dutch painter. Thirty-four paintings by Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–1681) was on view in the Dutch Cabinet Galleries of the National Gallery of Art from February 26 through May 21, 2006, the only venue for the exhibition in the United States.

Intimate in scale, Van Mieris' masterpieces rarely measure more than 15 square inches, but they are remarkable for their extreme realism, depiction of human emotion, and technical mastery. The widely-copied paintings influenced many fellow painters, including Vermeer. Gerrit Dou (1613–1675), founder of the Leiden school of fine painters (fijnschilders) and Van Mieris' teacher, called him "the prince of all my pupils."

The exhibition was organized by the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The Mauritshuis hosted an exhibition of paintings by Frans van Mieris the Elder from 1 October 2005 to 22 January 2006 under the name Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) Painted Perfection. Van Mieris is one of the most eminent representatives of the Dutch ‘fijnschilders’ (‘fine’ or neat painters). In an attempt to present a perfect mirror of reality, these 17th-century artists depicted fabrics and other materials in a highly meticulous and detailed manner. In the past decades, works by Frans van Mieris have played a crucial role in international exhibitions of Dutch painting.

"This exhibition is a natural sequel to Gerrit Dou 1613–1675, which the Mauritshuis and the National Gallery of Art presented in 2000 and 2001," said Earl A. Powell III. "We are indebted to our donors and lenders, the latter including many private collectors as well as a large number of museums, whose generosity and cooperation made this exhibition possible."

Frans van Mieris

Frans van Mieris was born in Leiden on 16 April 1635. After initially apprenticing as a goldsmith he turned to painting around 1650. He was first a pupil of the glass painter Abraham Toorenvliet and the portraitist Abraham van den Tempel, subsequently continuing his pupillage with Gerrit Dou, who dubbed him the ‘Prince’ of his pupils. In 1657 he married Cunera van der Cock, who bore him two sons, Jan and Willem, both of whom followed in their father’s footsteps. The family resided in Leiden and belonged to the Remonstrant Congregation. Van Mieris joined the local Saint Luke’s Guild on 14 May 1658, serving as its ‘hoofdman’ (leader) in 1663 and 1664 and as dean in 1665.

Diligence and the patience of a saint

With utmost diligence and patience Van Mieris painted interiors, scenes from daily life and portraits, primarily in a small format. He made likenesses of well-to-do burghers, famous or important residents of Leiden, and self-portraits and portraits of his wife Cunera van der Cock. He also produced a few history pieces and allegorical scenes. The strength of his work lies in his subtle and remarkable painting technique and palette. The way in which he depicted the various fabrics, materials and textures is nothing short of miraculous: an almost perfect miniature rendering of reality.

Human interactions

Van Mieris’ genre scenes present everyday situations in which human interactions and subtle undertones are faithfully and ingeniously conveyed. These small refined paintings abound with moralising messages and references to love. Humour and eroticism are often essential features and add greatly to the appeal of his works.

Van Mieris’ drawn oeuvre is also remarkable. The show includes several preliminary studies of a number of paintings, several of which will be on view, as well as independent drawings by the artist.

International fame

Van Mieris’ patrons include such luminaries as Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-1662) in Vienna and the Italian Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici (1642-1723) in Florence. They held the artist in high esteem and rewarded him royally for his services.

Paintings by Van Mieris from these princely collections are presently found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. It is interesting to note that Van Mieris turned down an offer to become court painter in Vienna.

He remained in Leiden and, in so far known, never left his birthplace for any great length of time. Frans van Mieris died on 12 March 1681 and was buried in the Pieterskerk.

The Exhibition

Organized chronologically, the exhibition presented the full scope of Van Mieris' career. The works were selected in consultation with leading Van Mieris scholar Dr. Otto Naumann.

Most of Van Mieris' works are lighthearted yet thoughtful genre scenes. As a storyteller in paint, Van Mieris recorded the interactions of people—often humorously, but also filled with erotic tensions and ambiguity. His work is sensuous and suggestive, reflecting contemporary ideas about the rituals of love, courtship, and seduction.

Van Mieris painted in an extremely detailed manner known as fijnschilderkunst ("fine painting"). By using fine brushes and applying the paint in successive layers, the artist made his brushstrokes virtually disappear. He often worked on copper because its hard surface enhanced his ability to paint in a smooth manner. Perhaps because of Leiden's prominence as a center of textile manufacturing, Van Mieris took particular care in rendering the rich textures of satin and other fabrics. One example of his virtuosity is the blue silk curtain in

A Trompe l'Oeil with a Garland of Flowers and a Curtain (1658), painted so realistically one could imagine pulling the curtain back.

In his earliest paintings, Van Mieris emulated his teacher Dou.

In Sending the Boy for Beer (c. 1655–1657), Van Mieris carefully rendered objects in the foreground—as Dou had—but gave greater emphasis to the human interaction.

In The Doctor's Visit (1657), Van Mieris further reveals himself as a humorous storyteller. As a doctor checks the pulse of a lovesick young woman, he shares his diagnosis with the viewer by pointing and gazing upwards.

In A Boy Blowing Bubbles (1663), Van Mieris placed his subject in a stone window frame, one of the compositional forms popularized by Dou; another is the arched top that occurs in many of Van Mieris' works.

By the end of the 1650s, Van Mieris began specializing in representations of the upper classes, such as the exquisite painting "The Duet" (1658), (above) in which a couple is situated in a sumptuous interior appropriate to their high social standing.

The Little Dog (c. 1660), one of the artist's most playful works, shows an elegantly dressed woman standing in her bedroom, teasing her pet spaniel.

Young Woman Before a Mirror (c. 1662) shows an affluent young woman holding a piece of jewelry to her neck.

Although mainly known for his genre scenes, Van Mieris was also a remarkable portrait painter.

Portrait of Cunera van der Cock, the Artist's Wife (c. 1657–1658) is an intimate and revealing study.

Van Mieris used his wife many times as a model, as in

The Art of Painting (Pictura) (1661). The exceptional richness of Pictura's satin garment, with its vibrant hues of blue and pink, is due to its copper support and a thin layer of gold leaf under the paint.

Second only to Rembrandt in the number of self-images he produced, Van Mieris' face appears in more than a quarter of his paintings, as in

The Oyster Meal (1661), where he is featured with his wife.

In his splendid

Self-Portrait as a Painter (1667), the artist portrayed himself as a distinguished gentleman at the peak of his success. The pose he adopts is found in a number of self-portraits, including those by Titian, Dürer, and Rembrandt—a pictorial reference to famous artists that Van Mieris obviously intended.

In the last decade of his career, Van Mieris executed a number of history pieces, scenes drawn from the Bible or mythology. Two of these are included in the exhibition,

The Death of Lucretia (1679) and

Jeroboam's Wife with the Prophet Ahijah (1671).

The Artist and His Influence

Frans van Mieris the Elder was born into a Leiden dynasty of goldsmiths on April 16, 1635. After his initial training as a goldsmith, he studied painting, primarily with Gerrit Dou. From his marriage with Cunera van der Cock in the spring of 1657 came four children, of whom the two sons Jan (1660–1690) and Willem (1662–1747) became painters. His grandson, Frans van Mieris the Younger, also earned his living as an artist.

Van Mieris resided his entire life in Leiden, a prosperous city known for its textiles and as a center of culture and scholarship. The artist's finely painted cabinet pieces found a ready market among the city's affluent elite, and by the late 1650s his paintings had become quite popular and highly valued. 17th-century patrons often paid dazzling prices for the artist's genre scenes, portraits, and allegorical works. The artist was patronized by foreign princes such as Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici III. The Grand Duke paid a visit to Van Mieris' studio on his trip to the Netherlands in 1669 and acquired five works from the artist.

Artists also responded to Van Mieris' work, not only those from Leiden (among them Jan Steen, who was a good friend and drinking companion of the artist), but also painters outside the city, in particular Johannes Vermeer, Gabriel Metsu, Godfried Schalcken, and Eglon van der Neer. Finally, Van Mieris' impact was extended through the works of his sons and grandson, all of whom had successful careers painting portraits and genre scenes in the master's style.

The exhibition curators are Quentin Buvelot, curator, Mauritshuis, and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art. Buvelot is the editor of the

exhibition catalogue, Frans van Mieris, 1635–1681.

In addition to essays by Buvelot, Otto Naumann, and Eddy de Jongh, the 256-page catalogue includes 125 color and 75 black-and-white illustrations as well as entries by Peter van der Ploeg, Bieke van der Mark, and Carol Pottasch.

From a wonderful review of the DC show: (images added)

A picture such as "The Duet," painted by the 23-year-old van Mieris in 1658, portrays many of the pleasures of the Dutch haute bourgeoisie, such as the amateur musicians the painting shows: the parrot (no doubt brought back from Holland's latest conquests in the Indies), the ornate harpsichord and lute, the gorgeous woman in pearls and gold-laden silks, even a page in livery bearing a fine glass tumbler that must contain that very latest, greatest, most Dutch of luxuries -- a cup of tea...

Van Mieris became a leader in the Leiden school of "fine painting," as it was known, but few of van Mieris's colleagues ever produced such fine work. The thread count of the sparkling silks he painted, like the knot count of his lush Oriental rugs, was far exceeded by the stroke count of his paintings.

One lovely little picture in this show, now titled "The Doctor's Visit," was commissioned by a Leiden burgomaster who had agreed to pay van Mieris by the hour: By the time the painting was done, its patron had paid 1,500 guilders for something like 300 hours' work, spread over four years. He seems to have gotten a bargain: Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and a big van Mieris fan in far-off Italy, is said to have offered the collector double for the picture, but without success...

A van Mieris painting was as sprezzatura-filled as anything could be: It encapsulated all the visible labor of the silk weaver and instrument maker, and then presented it in a medium that went to ostentatious effort to hide every trace of the artist's bravura hand. Some of van Mieris's finest moments as a painter -- the foreshortening of the woman's hands in his "The Oyster Meal" of 1661, or the glorious compositional play of page and dog and woman's waist in his "Duet" -- go almost unnoticed because of the absolutely natural, nearly accidental look that his great skill achieves...

Van Mieris's display can even hide behind a subject that is officially "low."

Van Mieris's "Sleeping Officer" features a drunken tavern scene, yet it is depicted with such exquisite taste and skill that the overall effect is refined -- a contrast that may be part of the painting's point.

Also in the exhibition:

Frans van Mieris
Saying Grace, c. 1650-1655
oil on panel, 34.3 x 40 cm (13 1/2 x 15 3/4); framed: 54.6 x 58.4 cm (21 1/2 x 23)
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, William A. Clark Collection

Frans van Mieris
The Quack, c. 1653-1655
(The Dutch Charlatan)

oil on panel, unframed: 45 x 36 cm (17 11/16 x 14 3/16)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Frans van Mieris
An Alchemist and his Assistant in a Workshop, c. 1655
oil on panel, unframed: 48.8 x 35.5 cm (19 3/16 x 14); framed: 66.3 x 53.5 cm (26 1/8 x 21
Private Collection

Frans van Mieris
A Peasant Inn, c. 1655-1657
oil on panel, 37.9 x 30.1 cm (14 15/16 x 11 7/8); 47.9 x 40.1 cm (18 7/8 x 15 13/16)
Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden

Frans van Mieris
The Resting Traveler, c. 1655-1657
oil on copper, 23 x 19.5 cm (9 1/16 x 7 11/16)
Collection Peter Eliot, New York

Frans van Mieris
An Old Soldier with a Pipe, c. 1655-1657
oil on panel, 19 x 15.8 cm (7 1/2 x 6 1/4); 44.5 x 40.5 cm (17 1/2 x 15 15/16)
Allentown Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Eugene L. Garbaty

Frans van Mieris
The Child's Lesson, c. 1656-1657
oil on panel, 29.2 x 21.6 cm (11 1/2 x 8 1/2)
Private collection, New York

Frans van Mieris
Brothel Scene, c. 1658-1659
oil on panel, 42.8 x 33.3 cm (16 7/8 x 13 1/8); 59.5 x 50 cm (23 7/16 x 19 11/16)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Frans van Mieris
The Old Violinist, 1660
oil on panel, 28.1 x 21 cm (11 1/16 x 8 1/4); 40 x 33 x 7 cm (15 3/4 x 13 x 2 3/4)
Private Collection, Boston

Frans van Mieris
"Teasing the Pet", 1660
oil on panel, 27.5 x 20 cm (10 13/16 x 7 7/8); 45 x 38 cm (17 11/16 x 14 15/16)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Frans van Mieris
Count Ulrik Frederik Gyldenlove (1638-1704), 1662
oil on panel, 31.5 x 22 cm (12 3/8 x 8 11/16)
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Frans van Mieris
A Woman Before a Mirror, c. 1662
oil on panel, 30 x 23 cm (11 13/16 x 9 1/16)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie

Frans van Mieris
A Woman Feeding a Parrot, after 1663
oil on copper, 22.5 x 17.3 cm (8 7/8 x 6 13/16)
The National Gallery, London

Frans van Mieris
Agatha Paets, 1665
oil on panel, 27 x 21.5 cm (10 5/8 x 8 7/16)
Private collection, United States

Frans van Mieris
Florentius Schuyl (1619-1669), 1666
oil on copper, 21 x 16.5 cm (8 1/4 x 6 1/2); 36.5 x 32 cm (14 3/8 x 12 5/8)
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague

Frans van Mieris
Self-Portrait, 1667
oil on panel, 17.7 x 13.3 cm (6 15/16 x 5 1/4)
The National Trust, Polesden Lacey

Frans van Mieris
Woman Sealing a Letter by Candlelight, 1667
oil on panel, 27 x 20 cm (10 5/8 x 7 7/8)
Private collection

Frans van Mieris
The Letter Writer, 1670
oil on panel, 16 x 12 cm (6 5/16 x 4 3/4)
Private Collection

Frans van Mieris
Portrait of a Woman, 1673
oil on panel, 22.8 x 17.1 cm (9 x 6 3/4)
Private collection, New York

Frans van Mieris
"The Family Concert", 1675
oil on panel, 51.8 x 40.2 cm (20 3/8 x 15 13/16)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Frans van Mieris
The Letter Writer, 1680
oil on panel, 25 x 19.5 cm (9 13/16 x 7 11/16); 44 x 39 x 6.5 cm (17 5/16 x 15 3/8 x 2 9/16)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam