This atypical realist painting of a half-naked woman, not a goddess, a nymph or a biblical figure, takes a special place in the history of Baroque painting in the Low Countries: this composition lacks the usual moral excuse for executing such a female figure. It joins a small group of nude women of flesh-and-blood that were painted almost two centuries before Courbet and Degas.
Our painting is attributed to Reinier de la Haye. In the early 1670s he fled the Dutch Republic to Flanders for a few years when his country was under attack from several other nations. Seeing its important size de la Haye probably painted this composition during his stay in Antwerp, before returning to Holland after his wife passed away.
About Reinier de La Haye
Probably born in The Hague, circa 1640 – in or after 1695, place unknown
His first name is sometimes spelt ‘Regnier’.
‘De la Haye’ means ‘from The Hague’ in French, the Lingua Franca of those days.
Painter of portraits, bourgeois genre scenes, also of a few still lifes and religious scenes.
Pupil of Adriaen Hanneman in 1660. Adriaen Hanneman (circa 1604 – 1671), who was strongly influenced by Sir Anthony van Dyck, worked during the first half of his career in England (until 1638) and during the second half he settled in The Hague where he painted regularly for English exiles (they had stayed here until Charles II came to power in 1660).
De la Haye joined the local Painter’s Guild of The Hague in 1662. De la Haye’s youth and first decade of his career coincides with the First Stadtholderless Period (1650 – 1672), when the Dutch Republic reached the zenith of economic and military power.
In 1669 he joined the Painter’s Guild of Utrecht.
Soon after he moved to Flanders, to Antwerp, where he is documented between 1672 and 1674. Many Dutch painters and other citizens had fled Holland during the infamous winter of 1672/1673, known as the ‘disaster year’ (‘Rampjaar’). Holland was being simultaneously attacked by England, France, the bishop of Münster and the archbishop of Cologne. Again de la Haye joined the local Painter’s Guild. Sadly, in 1674 his wife died in Antwerp and he must have returned to the Dutch Republic, where the situation had returned more or less to normal, with the return of a Stadtholder into power: William III, the future King of England.
About The Hague
The Hague takes a particuliar position in Holland.
Since the end of the 16th century it has been the residence of the Stadtholder (and of his court and of foreign diplomats) and of the States of Holland, the highest sovereign power within the Dutch Republic.
But on the other hand The Hague was known as a stain: it was larger than a village, but it only got the title and the rights of a town in 1811, during a visit by Emperor Napoleon.
About the women painted by Reinier de la Haye
In the Baroque age appealing, desirable women became an important subject within sensual genre scenes and history paintings: mythological and biblical subjects were often chosen in function of their potential to depict tantalizing women. In those days paintings became an excuse to acquire erotising scenes, which rather funny, were meant as warnings against loose behaviour: the perfect excuse.
On the other hand one sees both in Holland and in England that portraits of women are mostly rather dull.
This duality can also be seen in de la Haye’s artistic production: his women are either very beautiful and seductive or, when painting portraits, very boring.
About the subject of our painting
To us a partly naked woman at her toilet, combing her hair might seem to be a very common subject in painting. One needs to take into account that before Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas and Modern Art this was a very rare, unusual subject.
Before the 19th century artists needed a moral excuse to paint naked women. One finds a lot of genre scenes with dressed ladies combing their hair, but if you wanted naked women, the artists needed to represent biblical figures (Bathsheba or Susanna preparing for their bath), allegorical figures, mythological figures (Venus, Diana and her nymphs) etc.
A simple, mortal, half naked woman painted in flesh and blood in a realistic, verist way, during the 17th century on a canvas of such an important size is incredibly rare.
The Dutch Baroque specialist of female nudes was Jacob van Loo (Sluis 1614 – 1670 Paris). He loved painting nude figures in his Classicist, mythological scenes, but also in genre scenes that closely resemble portraits. He had settled in Amsterdam in 1635, but after he had stabbed to death a violent wine dealer in a fight outside a tavern, he had to flee. He settled in Paris in 1661 where he enjoyed much success until his death in 1670.
Seeing its large size Reinier de la Haye must probably have painted our painting during his stay in Flanders in the early 1670s, a Catholic nation where larger paintings were much more popular at that time than in Holland.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this unconventional, large denuded portrait comes almost two centuries before Gustave Courbet and Edgar Degas.