Friday, April 29, 2016


Sotheby’s New   York   auction of Master  Paintings  on  26  May  2016  will feature one   of   the   finest Dutch   genre   scenes   remaining in private hands:

Gabriel Metsu’s An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman (estimate   $6–8   million).

This refined interior stands as a lasting achievement of painting in the Golden Age of the mid-17th century, when Metsu and his peers    including  Johannes  Vermeer,  Gerrit  Dou  and  Frans  van  Mieris    were  creating  vivid  scenes of everyday life. The work is further distinguished by the many historical labels on its reverse, which tell its fascinating journey through one of the most momentousperiods in recent history. 

The picture entered  the  Viennese Rothschild  family’s  legendary collection  by  1866,  and  descended in the family for decades. The contents of the family’s palace in Vienna were targeted and seized by Nazi authorities in 1938, and the collection – including the Metsu – was removed to the central depot of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The RothschildMetsu was  one  of  the  masterpieces  selected  for  the  grandiose  museum  that  Hitler planned  to  construct  in  Linz.  When this  treasure  trove  was in  danger  of Allied  bombing,  the  Metsu  and some 6,500  other  paintings    including Jan  van  Eyck’s Ghent  Altarpiece    were moved  for  safekeeping  to  the  salt  mines  in  Altausee.   

 The Allied  Forces’  celebrated  Monuments  Men  later recovered these works, thwarting a plan by the Nazi district leader to destroy the mines in response to Hitler’s   Nero   Decree.   After   having   been   inventoried,   photographed   and   identified   by   the   Monuments  Men  as  the  property  of  the  Rothschild  family,  the present  picture  was  returned  to  Vienna in November 1945. At  this  time,  the  Baroness  von  Rothschild  was  determined  to  recover  her  collections  and  export  them  to  her  new  home  in  the  United  States.  She  was  granted  export  licenses  for  the  bulk  of  the works, but  only  on  the condition that she donate  a  number  of  her  most  important  pieces to  the  Austrian  state.  In  1948,  some  250  highlights  from  the  family collection  entered  the  inventories of Viennese  museums,  with  The  Rothschild  Metsu  returning  to  the Kunsthistorisches  Museum    the very museum where it had previously been held after its original seizure from the family palace.

Under  the  restitution  laws  introduced  in  Austria  in  1998,   the  Rothschild  family  was  able  to  reclaim  the  paintings  they  had  unwillingly  donated  in  1948.  And  so  it  was  that  The Rothschild  Metsu  was returned to the family, and sold at auction in 1999 to the present owner.

Christopher Apostle, Head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, said:“Gabriel Metsu ranks as one of the most important painters of his day, and An Officer Paying Court to a Young Womanis both  a  beautiful  and  quintessential example  of  his  best work.  The  painting  represents  a  near  perfect  distillation  of  the  class  Golden  Age  genre  scene,  containing  many  of  the  hallmarks  of  this category: two elegant people dressed in rich fabrics, a dog – representing fidelity, or in this case a lack thereof – jugs and wine glasses, all set in a typical Dutch interior space. No finer work by the artist  has  ever  been  offered  at  auction,  making  our  May  sale  a  rare  opportunity  for  collectors  to acquire such a masterpiece.”

Painted circa 1658-60, An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman is a testament to the time in which time  Metsu  was  at  the  peak  of  his  artistic  powers  and  commercial  popularity.  Having  begun  his  career  at  the  age  of  14  in  his  native  Leiden,  he  soon  established  himself  as  a  master  in  his  field  and  became a founding member of the painter’s guild in 1648. His early technique was influenced greatly by  Gerrit  Dou,  whose  transformational  style  ushered  in  a  taste  for  small  scale,  minutely-detailed pictures featuring an excess of genre subjects.

Once  Metsu   moved   to   Amsterdam   in   1654,   he   found   himself   gravitating   towards   portraying   elegantly-dressed  upper  class  subjects,  shifting  away  from  large-scale  historical,  allegorical  and  religious  subjects    at  the  time  dominated  by  Rembrandt  and  his  followers.  In  Amsterdam,  Metsu  discovered  a  rapidly  expanding  market  for  this  underrepresented  collecting  category,  and  was  able  to carve out his niche as the preeminent genre painter. 

An  Officer Paying Court to a Young  Woman is  a  quintessential  example  of  the  artist’s  unique  style,  drawn from the very best elements of Dutch genre painting. Set in a quiet moment inside of a tavern, the painting depicts a silent exchange between an elegantly dressed man and woman. Of particular beauty are the figure’s luxurious costumes, which mirror Metsu’s meticulous application of paint to mimic the play of light. 

Sotheby's 2009

Estimate   1,200,000 — 1,800,000  GBP
 LOT SOLD. 1,161,250 GBP