ART 4 2-DAY 03 February v.10.10
BIRTH: 1894 ROCKWELL
Died on 03 February 1900: William
Stanley Haseltine, US painter born on 11 June 1835. [The
11 Jan 1835 date sometimes found for his birth seems to be a typo].
— He was the son of successful Philadelphia merchant John Haseltine [28 Feb 1793 – 11 Dec 1871] and of his wife (married on 11 March 1830) painter Elizabeth Stanley Shinn Haseltine [22 Apr 1811 – 29 Jun 1882], who were the parents of ten other children including the sculptor James Henry Haseltine [02 Nov 1833 – 1907] and the art dealer Charles Field Haseltine [29 Jul 1840 – 1915]. In 1850 William Stanley Haseltine enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; after two years he transferred to Harvard College, Cambridge MA, graduating in 1854. He first formally studied painting in that year on his return to Philadelphia, working under Paul Weber [1823–1916]. Haseltine went abroad to Düsseldorf in 1855, where he became friends with his compatriots Albert Bierstadt, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze and Worthington Whittredge. He painted throughout Europe for the next three years, returning from Italy to the US in late 1858. He was established in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York by the winter of 1859 and played an active role in the city’s art world, exhibiting at the Century and Salmagundi clubs and at the National Academy of Design, of which he was an associate by 1860 and an academician in 1861. During the years of the Civil War (from which he was exempt due to a chronic eye ailment), Haseltine journeyed repeatedly to the rocky Atlantic coastline of New England to sketch scenes of sea and shore that form the basis of his strongest work, for example Indian Rock, Narragansett, Rhode Island (1863).
— William Haseltine became best known as a landscape and marine painter who had a special talent for conveying light and geological detail. He graduated from Harvard University in 1854 and also studied in Philadelphia with Paul Weber and then went to the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, Germany where he became one of the key US artist figures. In 1856, he traveled and painted the Rhine River and went into the Italian Alps with Emanuel Leutze, Worthington Whittredge, and Albert Bierstadt. Haseltine fell in love with Italy, which became a lifelong "love affair." From 1858 to 1866, he lived and worked in New York City where he had studio space in the Tenth Street Studio Building near studios of Leutze, Whittredge, and Bierstadt. He also did much painting of US landscapes including the coast of Rhode Island and North Shore of Massachusetts. He especially focused on rock formations. After 1866, excepting four years, 1895 to 1899, he lived in Europe, and most of that time he had his studio in an Italian palazzo near Rome. There he specialized in Italian landscapes, many of them purchased by people from the US.
— At Sotheby's 28 November 2001 auction, three Haseltine paintings were sold: A View from Mount Desert (1861, 76x102cm) for $748'250 _ New England Rocks (30x56cm) for $159'750 _ Capri Coast (38x58cm) for $98'500.
— At Sotheby's 05 December 2002 auction, Haseltine's Rocks at Narragansett, Rhode Island (1863, 31x56cm) was sold for $229'500.
— At Shannon's October 2000 auction, Haseltine's Woodland Interior (51x70cm; 438x600pix, 49kb) estimated at $4000 to $6000, was left unsold. It features mossy rocks.
— At Shannon's April 2001 auction, a lot of 2 Mountain Landscapes (32x43cm and 22x29cm) by Haseltine, one of which this links to the image (434x600pix, 37kb), sold for $3450
–- Ruins of the Roman Theater at Taormina, Sicily (1889, 83x144cm; 636x1116pix, 103kb _ .ZOOM to 1272x2232pix, 341kb)
–- Indian Rock, Narragansett, Rhode Island (1863, 57x98cm; 682x1204pix, 63kb _ .ZOOM to 1365x2407pix, 232kb) a distant airliner can be seen in the sky.
–- Mont Saint Michel (1868, 35x58cm; 666x1122pix, 50kb _ .ZOOM to 1332x2244pix, 193kb)
Rocky Shore (1862, 31x61cm; 398x800pix)
— 51 images at ARC
>Born on 05 February 1894: Norman
Percevel Rockwell, US illustrator and painter famous
for his Saturday Evening Post covers, who died on 08 November 1978.
— He studied at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art, the National Academy of Art and the Art Students League, New York. He also enrolled at the Académie Colarossi in Paris in 1923 during one of his many trips to Europe where he came into contact with the European abstract avant-garde. Although he was a constant admirer of Pablo Picasso [25 Oct 1881 – 08 Apr 1973] and made several attempts to absorb some modernist techniques, he remained fortunately a realist artist throughout his career, drawing on the narrative genre style of such 19th-century artists as William Sydney Mount and Winslow Homer [24 Feb 1836 – 29 Sep 1910].
Rockwell, a scholarship winner of the Art Students League, received his first free-lance assignment from Condé Nast at 17 years of age and thereafter provided illustrations for various magazines. In 1916 he sold his first cover to The Saturday Evening Post, for which in the next 47 years he illustrated a total of 317 magazine covers. From 1926 to 1976 Rockwell also illustrated the official Boy Scout Calendar. During World War II, posters of his paintings portraying the “Four Freedoms” were reproduced and distributed by the Office of War Information. Rockwell was a careful craftsman with an ability to represent detail realistically. The subjects of most of his illustrations are taken from everyday family and small-town life and are often treated with a touch of humour. Though loved by the public, Rockwell's work was dismissed by most pompous critics as lacking artistic merit and authentic social observation.
— Before the shot (15 Mar 1958) [image >]
— Self-Portrait, Painting Soda Jerk (1953; 1200x1704pix, 174kb)
— Soda Jerk (22 Aug 1953; 363x277pix, 36kb)
— Triple Self-Portrait (13 Feb 1960; 430x334pix, 14kb) _ Seen from the back, seated, Rockwell is nearly completing a drawing of his head, and is seen in the mirror into which he is looking. The picture is a small part of the cover mostly taken up by the lettering: Beginning in this issue AMERICA'S BEST LOVED ARTIST FINALLY TELLS HIS OWN STORY NORMAN ROCKWELL My Adventures As An Illustrator By Norman Rockwell
— The Connoisseur (1962; 1035x843pix, 368kb) seen from the back he is in contemplation before a large abstract painting, which you can see unobstructed in The Connoisseur Removed (2004; 1424x1496pix, 559kb) by the pseudonymous Roman Witzemacher von Schachtenstein.
Saying Grace (1951; 74kb)
The Golden Rule (1961; 133kb)
— Spring Flowers (25x20cm)
–- Cousin Reginald Under the Mistletoe (1200x1200pix, 104kb)
— Astronauts Suiting Up (431x650pix, 53kb)
— One Small Step (823x509pix, 55kb)
— 103 images at ARC
Died on 03 February 1679: Wijbrant
Jan Havickszoon Steen, Dutch painter born in 1626.
Son-in-law of Jan
van Goyen [13 Jan 1596 – 27 Apr 1656]. Studied under Adriaen
van Ostade[bap. 10 Dec 1610 – 27 Apr 1685].
Steen is especially noted for genre scenes. He was born in Leiden and educated at the University of Leiden. He is believed to have studied painting first in Utrecht with the German artist Nicolaus Knupfer, then in The Hague with the Dutch artist Jan van Goyen, whose daughter he married in 1649. Steen lived at The Hague until 1654, when he moved to Delft and, according to tradition, adopted his father's occupation of brewer. Subsequently he returned to Leiden, where he opened a tavern in 1672. Steen was a prolific painter, particularly of lively tavern scenes and of children, although he painted landscapes, portraits, and religious works as well. Among his best-known paintings are The Cat Family (1660), Young Woman at Her Toilette (1663), Wedding (1667), and The Surprise (1675).
Much of Jan Steen's career took place in his native Leiden, where he enrolled in the university as a literature student in 1646 and joined the newly founded Guild of Saint Luke in 1648. In October 1649 he married Margaretha van Goyen [1630-1669], the daughter of the painter Jan van Goyen. After Margaretha's death, Steen married Maria van Egmont in 1673. Steen worked in The Hague from 1649 to 1654; lived in Delft for two years; spent the years from 1656 to 1660 in Warmond; 1661 to 1669 in Haarlem; and finally in 1670 settled again in his native Leiden, where he remained until his death. Contemporary sources are silent about his artistic training. However, his eighteenth-century biographers Arnold Houbraken and Jacob Campo Wyerman place him in the studios of Nicolas Knöpfer in Utrecht, Adriaen van Ostade in Haarlem, and with Jan van Goyen in The Hague. While some of these supposed influences are more difficult to discern in his work, the impact of Isaac van Ostade and of the Rembrandt student Jacob de West, both from The Hague, and of the Utrecht painter Joost Cornelisz. Droochsloot, can also be demonstrated. Most of these artists are known primarily for their genre scenes, and with the exception of a small number of early landscapes, it is this subject matter that would occupy Steen throughout his career. However, in addition to a variety of genre types, including outdoor gatherings, tavern scenes, intimate interiors, riotous scenes of domestic upheaval, he painted serious biblical and mythological subjects. Steen developed into a versatile painter, able to work in both the broadly brushed style characteristic of the Haarlem school and the refined technique popularized by the Leiden fiinschilder. |
— Steen was born in Leiden, the son of a brewer. Educated at a Latin school, he enrolled in 1646 at Leiden university, although he was never to actually graduate. Little is known for certain about Steen's apprenticeship as a painter. Early eighteenth-century biographers of artists record that he was taught by various painters: Nicolaus Knupfer, Adriaen van Ostade as well as landscape painter Jan van Goyen, whose daughter he married in 1649. One year earlier he had registered as a master painter with the Leiden guild of artists, indicating that his apprenticeship was now over.
Steen became especially well-known for his genre paintings with fun-loving, cheerful groups of people. He also painted various portraits (for example Baker Oostwaert) as well as biblical and mythological scenes. Because of his frequent changes of address Steen came into contact with many other artists over the years. Often, he considered it a challenge to try and match or surpass their skills, regularly changing his manner of painting. Steen did not earn a fortune from painting. So to augment his income he ran a brewery in Delft for a few years and (in 1672) opened a tavern in his own home.
In biographies Jan Steen is often portrayed as a philanderer who led a rather chaotic life. But this is probably based on the characters in his paintings, and not on information about the painter's life. In fact he is known to have been a respected member of the Leiden artists guild, in which he held various functions. As a painter he produced an enormous amount of work. Whether he had any students is not known: certainly he had two sons who painted, and his work was widely imitated. Jan Steen's closest seventeenth-century follower was Richard Brakenburgh.
Steen is best known for his humorous genre scenes, warm hearted and animated works in which he treats life as a vast comedy of manners. In Holland he ranks next to Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals in popularity and a 'Jan Steen household' has become an epithet for an untidy house. But Steen, one of the most prolific Dutch artists, has many other faces. He painted portraits, historical, mythological, and religious subjects (he was a Catholic), and the animals, birds, and still-lifes in his pictures rival those by any specialist contemporaries. As a painter of children he was unsurpassed. Steen was born in Leiden and is said to have studied with Adriaen van Ostade in Haarlem and Jan van Goyen (who became his father-in-law) in The Hague. He worked in various towns - Leiden, The Hague, Delft, Warmond, and Haarlem - and in 1672 he opened a tavern in Leiden. His father had been a brewer, and in the popular imagination Steen was a drunken profligate, but there is nothing in the known facts to justify this reputation. Many of his pictures represent taverns and festive gatherings, but they often feature moralizing allusions, and he also painted scenes of impeccable genteelness. Apart from his versatility, richness of characterization, and inventiveness in composition, Steen is remarkable also for his skill as a colorist, his handling of salmon-red, rose, pale yellow, and blue-green being highly distinctive. He had no recorded students, but his work was widely imitated.
Self Portrait (1670, 73x62cm) _ This well-dressed man eyes the viewer with a serious and self-confident expression on his face. He is portrayed from the waist up, standing in front of a balustrade, his arms resting lightly on a chair. Behind him is a red curtain with a large tassel. Beside it are the contours of a twilight landscape. This is Jan Steen's only serious self-portrait. He regularly depicted himself in his own paintings, usually in company, in a comical role, as a drunkard, a victim of deception or, as in The Merry Family, playing the bagpipes.
This self portrait of Jan Steen was restored in 1996. Steen's head was initially surrounded by a murky brown background which blended into a dark landscape to the right. Restoration revealed that the background was an overpainting added at a later date, concealing a magnificent, bright red curtain. A tree was also discovered in the landscape. Once the brown layer and the yellowed varnish had been removed, the painting revealed its vivid colors, rivalling those of Steen's other work.
While painting this self portrait, Jan Steen made several changes (‘pentimenti’) of his own. He altered the composition as he went along. For example, Steen's back was initially broader and there was once a wall (or window frame) between his face and the landscape. Infrared reflectography reveals that the jabot around Steen's neck has been altered several times. Also Steen had initially depicted himself as he had in other paintings: smiling broadly.
— Interior of an Inn with an Old Man, the Landlady and Two Men Playing Backgammon aka Two Kinds of Games (63x70cm) _ A group of men are having fun in a tavern. A young man is drinking beer, draining his tankard, while a couple of others are playing backgammon. Like cards, this popular game was associated with idleness and folly. On the left, another game is being played: an old man tries to pull a young woman (the landlady) onto his lap. The woman resists him half-heartedly. Her red stockings, however, suggest that she would not have been all that worried about her morals: red stockings often indicated the woman was a prostitute. Taverns were sometimes disguised brothels and this place certainly has a rather dubious air. The lute on the wall, the dog, the pipe on the firepan (the glowing coals representing the fiery passion of love), and the mussel and eggshells on the ground suggest debauchery, lust and idleness.
Children Teaching a Cat to Dance aka The Dancing Lesson (1668, 69x59cm) _ Four children are playing with a cat, making it dance. At the center, a young boy is holding the cat by its front paws while the girl plays a flute and the other two children watch laughing. The cat screeches, the dog barks and the old man looks out of the window. The scene is mainly painted in beige and brown tones. Only the girl is wearing brightly colored clothes: the blue of her dress is particularly bright and striking. This painting is a 'typical Jan Steen': an amusing scene in a domestic setting with a sexual undertone. Although the scene seems innocent enough, a contemporary of Steen would have sensed the erotic undercurrent in the painting immediately. In that time, the cat and the dog represented lust and lechery. The children are giving the cat a pipe, lifting its tail and dancing. This was a period in which dancing was considered improper, an invitation to sin. Here the cat is dancing 'to the pipes' of the children. Other details refer equally to love and sex: the bed in the background and musical instruments such as the flute and the lute (on the wall). The spaniel appears in other paintings by Steen, as does the lute on the wall, the pewter jug and the saucepan on the ground.
Leiden Baker Arend Oostwaert and His Wife Catharina Keyzerswaert (1658, 38x32cm) _ A baker dressed in his work clothes steps outside holding freshly made bread on a breadboard. Arranged in full view are a variety of shining loaves and rolls; against the wall is a square dovecote. A woman holds up a big toasted biscuit while above her hang large pretzels. On the right a boy blows a horn: a signal to the public that the new bread was ready. The small rolls on the fence appear to have come out of his horn - an amusing touch. The scene looks like a genre piece - a picture of a baker at his work. However, it is not just any baker; it is a portrait of Arend Oostwaert of Leiden and his wife. This type of combination of genre piece and portrait is a common feature of Steen's work.
The baker and his wife were married in 1657: they probably commissioned the portrait to mark the occasion. This could explain why Jan Steen added festoons of flowers and vine leaves to the front of the house: traditionally these represented marital fidelity. The inscription notes that the boy was modeled on a son of Jan Steen's, probably the 7-year-old Thaddeus.
The baker is shown in his work clothes, wearing a cap and open shirt. He is depicted with swift brushstrokes. His wife is more carefully painted - she is wearing neater clothes, a respectable black and white. Originally she wore a more colorful blouse: the red tones can be seen through the white. Steen also altered the baker's shirt with a pentimento: originally it was not so open. These changes can now be seen because the top layer of paint has become transparent in the course of time.
Prince's Day (1665, 46x62cm) _ “To the health of the Nassau line, in one hand a rapier, in the other hand the glass.” This rhyme, with a little effort and a magnifying glass, can be read on the piece of paper on the floor against the table leg. The inscription and the work's title Prince's Day explains the occasion behind this painting: the tenth birthday of Prince William III [14 Nov 1650 – 19 Mar 1702] of the house of Orange-Nassau. This feast was not celebrated by everybody because, at the time, the Republic was divided between those for and against the prince. Jan Steen painted this tavern scene five years after the event.
The writing on the note refers to the man who is kneeling with the rapier and raising his glass in a toast for the prince. While he drinks he looks towards the painting hanging above the bedstead: a portrait of the young Prince of Orange. His white apron identifies him as the tavern's landlord. Prince's Day contains still more references to the landlord's support for the House of Orange: the portrait of the prince is hanging from an orange ribbon and a branch with orange apples is draped over the bell frame. The color also appears in the orange in the foreground and the feathers in the hat lying on the bench.
Only the group at the center of the painting appears to respond to the landlord's toast. The man who is standing is raising his glass, an older woman is screaming (or laughing?), gesticulating, while the woman in the foreground looks on disdainfully. The other customers continue doing what they were doing. The two men on the right are shaking hands, sealing a bargain or a bet. On the left is a typical tableau: a man is reading from the newspaper. Two other men are listening. This situation was not unusual in the seventeenth century; newspapers were often read and discussed in the taverns by several people at the same time.
In Jan Steen's day, taverns were known as places where (too) much drinking and dissipated behavior took place. Taverns might even be brothels in disguise. Several elements seem to refer to this in this painting: on the left a ladder leads up to a balcony over which a man's trousers are hanging, and the people underneath the ladder are flirting heavily. The company in this tavern is somewhat shabbily dressed; the guests obviously do not belong to the higher classes. The prince was mainly supported by the 'common folk'. It is not precisely clear what Steen intended by this painting. Did he simply want to portray the prince's supporters in the tavern, or has he depicted the prince's followers as faintly ridiculous?
A clue to the intention behind this painting can perhaps be found in the text on the bell frame: “Salus patriae suprema lex esto”. This was the motto of the States party-faction that opposed the Orangists. It was an admonition against the power of the stadholders who, the States Party claimed, were becoming too much like kings. The interests of the country should be above those of the king. The Latin motto was based on a Greek quote from Plato. This was the motto of the State Party which opposed to the prince. The painting was made during the 'stadholderless' period. This unique political situation apparently provided Prince's Day with additional political significance. It is not known whether or not Steen supported the State Party. It could be that the person who commissioned the painting was a supporter of this party. Whatever the case, the meaning behind this painting remains a mystery.
The characters in the central group are linked together by gestures and looks. The gestures are somewhat exaggerated and seem 'frozen', as if in a film still. In this way Steen gives the story additional emphasis. Apart from being an exciting story-teller, Steen was also a skilled painter. The materials in the foreground are beautifully painted. Prince's Day, despite of the apparent chaos, also follows a very strict composition. The central group immediately attracts attention due to the light shining on it. These characters are depicted slightly larger and with more color. The group falls within the lines of a triangle formed by the bell frame, the copper kettle and the saucepan.
Steen has used himself as the model for the man standing laughing. The round cheeks and long hair are recognisable from the self portrait of 1670. Jan Steen often put himself and members of his family in his paintings. The sleeping dog can also be found in other paintings by the painter. Placing himself in the composition by no means meant that he identified himself with the character.
The Feast of Saint Nicholas (1666, 82x70cm) _ Steen painted at least six pictures of the Feast of Saint Nicholas, the festival traditionally dedicated to Dutch children. On the eve of 05 December, Saint Nicholas comes to the Netherlands from Spain to leave appropriate gifts in the shoes of children. The good ones receive cakes, sweets, and toys; the naughty ones get canes and coals. A complicated play of diagonals helps bind the family of ten together from the heap of special pastries to the man pointing to the chimney on the right, where Saint Nicholas made his entry, and from the carved table covered with sweets up to the girl holding the shoe with the distressing birch-rod. Figures which lean in one direction are balanced by those leaning in the other; foreground and background, right and left are held together by gestures, glances, and expressions which give the painting familial as well as pictorial tautness. The smiling boy who points to the shoe makes the onlooker part of this family scene by smiling directly out at him or her. The coloristic effect is brilliant, and does not lack unification or become too diffuse, as is sometimes the case in Steen's work.
A family is celebrating Saint Nicholas' Day. The children have just received their presents. The little girl is rather spoilt: she has a doll and a bucket full of sweets and toys. The boy crying, left, found the cane in his shoe. The older girl holds the shoe up triumphantly and another youngster points to it and laughs at the boy. But in the background, Grandma nods reassuringly to the unfortunate lad. Perhaps she has a present for him, hidden behind the curtain.
A boy holding a child points out the chimney to his brother: it is through here that St Nicholas brought his gifts. His other brother is already singing a St Nicholas song thanking the saint. In the foreground is a basket of all kinds of traditional St Nicholas Eve sweetmeats: gingerbread, honey cake, nuts, waffles and apples from the tree. The large ginger cake is a matchmaker or 'hylickmaker'. A Hylickmaker is a kind of large cake decorated with candied peel and pieces of orange. Hylick means marriage. It was therefore an ideal gift for a person who was about to propose. This type of cake was also eaten on St Nicholas day, because of the saint's association with marriage. According to legend, he gave dowries to three poor young women to help them find husbands. The word 'heilig' (holy) in one of the saint's names - 'goedheiligman' - may even be a corruption of the term hylick, referring to St Nicholas as the refuge of unmarried young women. This section of the painting is a still life in itself, a picture within a picture.
More delicacies are depicted on the right. The apple and coin refer to the old tradition of hiding coins in apples and giving these to friends as presents. Leaning against the table is a gleaming duivekater. Duivekater A 'duivekater' is a diamond-shaped loaf baked for festive occasions. There are several theories about the name, but no one really knows what the origins are. It may have something to do with the devil in the shape of a tom cat. On the other hand, it may be derived from the expression 'deux fois quatre' (pronounced de-fwa-katr), French for 'twice four' - a large loaf weighing double the normal weight of a loaf costing four doits: a 'quatre fois'. Another explanation is that the loaf is named after a baker called Deuvekater who lived in Leiden around 1450 - although of course the man might also have acquired his name from the product he sold! Duivekaters are featured in a number of 17th-century paintings, including a number by Jan Steen. Steen's portrait of the Leiden baker also contains a duivekater.
The child near the chimney is holding a delicacy that is still eaten around 5 December: a gingerbread man in the shape of St Nicholas. In the seventeenth century, the baking of St Nicholas figures was banned in many Dutch cities. In Utrecht, for example, an ordinance passed in 1655 forbade 'the baking of likenesses in bread or cake'. Symbolisations of (Catholic) saints for Catholic festivals were frowned on by the Protestant authorities.
In 1657 the city of Dordrecht banned the actual St Nicholas festival. The Reformed Church considered the celebration a 'residue of popery', 'encouraging superstition ... and idolatry'. However, these measures had little effect. Himself a Catholic, Jan Steen nevertheless went ahead and painted this cheerful family festival. Perhaps this was Steen's - rather daring - response to the Protestant Church's standpoint. The girl's present indicates that this was indeed a Catholic family: it is a model St John, a doll representing John the Baptist. This saint was supposed to protect children against disease.
Cheerful people in a domestic setting: a typical Jan Steen scene. From the numerous paintings with titles such as The Merry Family, depicting chaotic and disorderly homes, a new saying emerged, a 'Jan Steen houseld'. Popular festivals such as St Nicholas, Twelfth Night and Prince's Day (to celebrate the Prince of Orange's birthday) were for Steen an ideal opportunity to paint happy people. Other emotions also come into play at a St Nicholas feast: surprise and awe, joy and sadness, secrecy, mockery and excitement. Steen portrays these masterfully in this painting and another canvas on the same theme in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen collection in Rotterdam.
In the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen version most of the figures have the same role and position: the mother with her arms extended, the spoilt girl, the boy crying and the younger brother with the kolf stick Kolf Kolf is a sport in which a ball is struck with a kolf stick (a cross between a golf club and a hockey stick). The object is to hit the poles on the kolf pitch. Kolf was played both on land and on ice. For centuries, from the Middle Ages on, it was as popular in the Low Countries as football is today. West Friesland is the only place in which kolf is still played. However, the home provides quite a different spectacle. It shows that, like other artists, Steen did not always try to provide an accurate portrayal of a real scene. He probably based his paintings on previous sketches of characters and situations that he combined in various ways in a composition.
It has often been suggested that Steen used his own family as models for his paintings. Steen had four children in all. When he painted the St Nicholas Feast there were still only three, all older than seven. The younger children in this work must therefore have been 'borrowed' from other parents. He may have drawn them from sketches, or he may have invented them, 'from the spirit', as it was termed in the seventeenth century.
It was not only Steen who reused characters in particular poses in later paintings. His faithful follower Richard Brakenburgh employed several poses and gestures from Steen's St Nicholas Feast in a work painted in 1685 on the same theme. Once again we see the spoilt girl, the boy crying, the mother with arms extended and the grandmother gesturing.
Steen was a true storyteller: the focus is invariably on the story. He paid particular attention to the portrayal of relationships between people and their emotions. Gestures and glances link the characters in an oval within which the main events take place. This composition ensures that the viewer's attention is directed towards the centre of the painting, where the story takes place.
The Merry Family (1668, 110x141cm) _ A happy family around the table. Young and old, all are enjoying themselves enormously: the mother and grandmother are singing a song, two sons are playing music while their brothers and a sister smoke a pipe. The father has stopped playing his violin and exuberantly raises his glass. His example is followed by the children in the foreground, who are also drinking wine. This is one of Steen's most famous paintings.
Despite the merriness, this is not the cosy family party it seems. The happy, chaotic 'Jan Steen household' scenes almost always contain a moral: admonishments against undisciplined behavior and excess. This painting also contains a more specific message which can be read in the inscription on the mantelpiece to the right. 'Soo d'Oude Songen, Soo Pypen de Jonge': children do what their parents do, even when they are set a bad example, as is here. The children are exuberant and restless and even the youngest are smoking and drinking. The painter is warning against the consequences of a bad upbringing.
Steen has depicted the proverb figuratively, but also literally: the adults are singing and the children are piping: playing a flute or smoking a pipe. In this way Steen focused on the moral behind the picture. Paintings with subjects taken from everyday life are called genre paintings. These were often meant to teach a lesson. Painters like Steen emphasised their message while others painted attractive tableau with a concealed moral. And sometimes a domestic scene was nothing more than an attractive painting to decorate a wall.
The people in this jolly family are full of life, with realistic gestures and facial expressions. Some, like the singing father and grandmother, have such comical faces, they could almost to be caricatures. The baby with its round, rosy cheeks appears to be raising its spoon to beat time for its flute-playing brother. The bagpipe player is puffing his cheeks out too. Some historians believe that Steen used himself as the model for this character. The man does indeed resemble the self portrait by Steen, nevertheless, it remains uncertain.
A number of objects on this painting appear in other works by Steen. The large hams on the table, the frying pan on the floor, the spaniel and a similar wooden bench all appear in Steen's 'Prince's Day'. The glass being raised in both works is a römer: a seventeenth-century glass with prunts on the stem. Perhaps these objects belonged to Steen's own household, in which case they would have been near to hand. Steen obviously enjoyed painting the materials convincingly and beautifully.
Steen's careful handling of texture is visible in the soft shine of the girls' clothes in the foreground and the fall of the light on the folds of the tablecloth. The metal dish on the floor reflects the light from the window. A delightful detail is the broken eggshells lying on the floor. Presumably, this is not there by accident. In paintings like this, empty eggshells often refer to the fragility and 'emptiness' of a life that only consists of drinking, smoking and partying.
The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1671, 135x173cm) _ In the open air, just outside a city gate, a dramatic event is taking place. At the center stands an executioner about to kill a woman. A king, with his crown fallen to one side, leans on his stick in despair. In the upper right, in the gateway, a woman is folding her hands, beseeching or praying, while in the lower left a cupid-like Cupid-like boy is walking away crying and bystanders talk with frantic gestures or look at the woman at the center full of disgust.
Here Steen has convincingly depicted a story from Classical mythology: the sacrifice of Iphigenia. The king is Agamemnon, King of Mycenae in Greece. He has had to offer his daughter as a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. What led to this drama was Agamemnon's determination to lay siege to the city of Troy. Yet every time he tried to embark his fleet, a calm descended. A soothsayer revealed that he had angered the goddess Artemis and that the king could only win back her favor by making a sacrifice to her: his daughter Iphigenia. After much hesitation and under pressure from his army, the king finally agreed.
The painter has pictured the moment just before Iphigenia is to be sacrificed. The executioner is about to kill her, the knife shines in his hand and he is looking cruelly at his victim. Miraculously however, the king's daughter escapes from her gruesome death at the last moment. The goddess Artemis is present at the event and intervenes: without anyone noticing, she replaces Iphigenia with a deer. And so the deer is sacrificed and the king's daughter is saved. Artemis, identifiable by her crescent moon, is in the upper left of the painting, between two columns; the deer is walking unsuspectingly near the sacrificial altar.
Steen has paid particular attention to the rendering of texture on a few figures in the foreground. The king's clothes display a wonderful contrast between the hard, shining metal and the soft gleam of his mantle and his fleshy bare knee. The kneeling woman has also been depicted with great care. The shine of her hair, silk clothes and the fall of the light on the folds are beautifully rendered. We can easily see that Steen moved her right foot during painting. The bare feet have become a little dirty from walking, a pleasant realistic detail. However, the light from the wood fire that shines around her turned head gives this woman a mysterious air.
Jan Steen is mainly known for his genre paintings of everyday scenes. However, he also painted subjects from history, the Bible or, as here, classical mythology. There were many rules concerning the painting of history scenes in the seventeenth century. Later, in 1707, these rules were recorded by the painter Gerard Lairesse in his Schilderboeck. For instance, people had to be depicted as beautiful and exalted, nude or dressed in the clothes of the day. There were also guidelines for attitudes and gestures, the use of color and composition. Selene and Endymion (1671) is an example of how Lairesse had applied his own precepts.
Steen did not keep strictly to the rules of history painting. He followed his own ideas and depicted the subject in a less exalted way than was usual. Like his genre paintings, this scene is a little chaotic. To make the story recognisable for his contemporaries, he has not dressed all the people in 'Iphegenia' in classical Greek costumes, but seventeenth-century, Dutch clothes. Most of the faces also look quite Dutch. Only the group on the right have something exotic about them due to the king's Roman cuirass and the head-dresses of the men around him: the turban, the laurel wreath, a kind of bishop's miter and a variation on a Roman helmet.
The Sick Woman (1665, 76x64cm) _ A young woman leans over weakly in her chair, her head resting on a cushion on the table. The doctor is taking her pulse. What is the young lady suffering from? Probably she is not ill, just hopelessly in love. She is 'lovesick', her heart is broken. Steen depicted her with blushing cheeks and a smile on her lips. Contemporaries of Steen would immediately have seen that this was not a real emergency. The 'doctor' is wearing clothes which were by then old-fashioned. Doctors in garments such as these were confined to the stage, where playwrights made fun of incompetent quacks.
To the seventeenth-century audience it was obvious that this was all about love. Jan Steen offers all kinds of clues. The chamberpot and candle were in those days symbols of lust. And beside the bedstead hangs a lute, often employed in paintings to symbolise love, or immorality. In the foreground, on the right is a footwarmer with a brazier. As in other seventeenth-century paintings, the glow of the coal stands perhaps for the fire of love: the woman is devoured by the flames of passion!
The brazier serves a practical purpose too. A blue ribbon from the woman's dress is smouldering in the fire. Popular superstition held that it's pungent aroma would stop women fainting. To determine whether a person was 'lovesick' it was necessary to count the heartbeat, or to take the pulse. The heartbeat was thought to reflect the patient's emotional state: if the object of infatuation appeared, or was simply mentioned, the heart would beat faster.
On the footwarmer is a flask, probably filled with urine. Once it was slightly heated the doctor would study its contents. Examining urine - 'uroscopy' - was a supposedly tried and tested method of determining whether a woman was pregnant. It is shown in the The Anaemic Lady (1670, 70x65cm) by van Hoogstraten [02 Aug 1627 – 19 Nov 1668]. In Jan Steen's day there was considerable criticism of the quacksalvers who still practiced this outmoded technique. Uroscopists were portrayed in seventeenth-century paintings and plays to show up charlatan doctors and hypochondriacs. It is ironic that nowadays a common and reliable home pregnancy test detects, not by eyesight but chemically, the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in a woman's urine.
Steen painted the sick woman and the doctor with considerable attention to detail. He portrayed the faces with a confidant touch, the faint woman and the brilliant shine of the cloth. For the figures, Steen used good paints with expensive pigments, such as the costly lapis lazuli for the slipper and the blue ribbon. Yet other parts of the painting are hardly developed at all, such as the rather coarsely painted wall behind the bed. Steen painted the bedstead with a poor quality paint that has lost much of its color over the years. Differences in quality are not unusual in paintings by Steen.
The 'doctor' in this painting is wearing a beret and a tightly fitting jacket with a high collar and a small, pleated ruff. This had been fashionable about 1560-1570, as in the portrait of Sir Thomas Gresham (1565) by A. Mor. When Steen painted his Sick Woman about a century later, it was hopelessly out-dated and only fit for caricatures. What would a serious doctor have worn in Jan Steen's day? Rembrandt painted a portrait of the Jewish doctor Ephraim Bueno in 1647. He is wearing a high hat and wide jacket with a broad, flat collar.
Lovesickness aroused considerable interest in the second half of the seventeenth century, not least among serious investigators. At the universities of Leiden and Utrecht as many as seventeen dissertations were submitted on the subject! Although lovesickness claimed victims among men as well as women, in paintings it was usually female patients who were shown, rather than male. Steen is known to have painted almost fifty doctor's visits, for example The Lovesick Maiden (1660, 86x99cm). In The Lovesick Woman (1660), Steen emphasized the message even further with a rather exaggeratedly droll doctor, a cupid statue above the doorway and the inscription, 'No medicine can help, it's only lovesickness'.
— Woman at her Toilet (1665, 37x27cm) _ A young woman is sitting on the edge of her bed and removing a stocking. Marks left by the stocking are visible on her legs. There's a chamber pot on the floor and a dog lies sleeping on the cushion. It seems quite an innocent scene perhaps, but for an seventeenth-century audience the erotic references in the painting would have been immediately obvious.
Red stockings, true love? The average contemporary of Jan Steen would have seen straight away that this was not the everyday action of an innocent young woman. 'Kous', the Dutch for stocking, could also mean the female genitals or a (loose) woman. Expressions such as 'she's darning her stockings' were frequently used to refer to the sexual act. In that period, a woman with red stockings was a prostitute. The half-filled chamber pot on the floor also refers to 'loose' women: a 'piskous' was another word for slut. And the message was reinforced by the discarded slippers, the dog and the candlestick on the chair: here these are all symbols of lust.
Steen painted other picture in which the stocking plays the same role. The Woman at her Toilet in the Buckingham Palace collection is similar to this painting (in the Rijksmuseum), although here the scene is glimpsed through a window. Seventeenth-century prints also refer to the dubious message of a woman (or a man!) removing or putting on their stockings. In a print from a songbook a woman ridicules a man pulling on a stocking. The large, open bed and the raucous text of the accompanying song leave little doubt as to the meaning of the illustration.
For many years the scene was far less 'licentious' than Steen had intended: part of the work had been painted over. The woman's skirt was lengthened, so that her legs were covered, and the chamber pot was turned into a vase.
In his paintings, Steen often commented on the licentious behavior of his characters. Sometimes the criticism is obvious. Here the message is less direct. Years after it was completed, it no longer struck the viewer as obvious what it was that Steen was ridiculing. Perhaps that is why someone decided to blot out the worst of the nudity and the 'banal' chamber pot with a new layer of paint. It was only in the 1960s, when the painting was cleaned, that restorers were surprised to find an uncensored version.
The brown and white spotted dog is sleeping peacefully on its mistress's cushion. This dog appears in many of Jan Steen's paintings. Was it perhaps his pet? Sometimes the animal is asleep in the background, as here and in Prince's Day, or just staring at something on the floor, in The Marriage Contract. Occasionally the animal has an active role, for example, barking ferociously at a cat in The Dancing Lesson. Other artists have also featured the spaniel, or 'kooikershond'. It was apparently a popular breed in the seventeenth century. Dogs in seventeenth-century art have various connotations, depending on the context. In this immoral setting the dog probably refers to lust. Van Ostade has a similar dog in Peasants in an Interior (1661), and van de Velde another one in A Couple with Two Children and a Nursemaid in a Landscape (1667).
In contrast to the many busy, cheerful Steen households, the Woman at her Toilet is a quiet, unassuming scene. The colors are harmonious: dark brown and deep, dark green with silver-grey, white, ochre and red accents. The artist paid particular attention to the texture. With great care he painted the various materials: the dark-green velvet of the curtains, the hair of the dog and the dull shine of the silver-grey silk jacket. The shiny chamber pot is a minor masterpiece: the metal reflects much of the room. And the impression of the stockings on the woman's leg and her black, curly hair are lifelike.
–- The Marriage of Tobias and Sarah aka The Marriage Contract (1673, 104x128cm; 919k1131pix, 103kb _ .ZOOM to 1840x2264pix, 607kb _ .ZOOM+ to 3680x4528pix, 2435kb)