Nicolaes Maes was an important Dutch master, active in Dordrecht and in Amsterdam. He was one of the best pupils of Rembrandt.
Between 1653 and 1660 he specialised in genre scenes, such as ours (and in religious subjects). From 1660 onwards he devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture.
Werner Sumowski dates our painting circa 1656 – 1658, so as a late genre scene, before Maes turned to portraiture.
Although both Sumowski, who wrote extensively about Rembrandt’s pupils, and Leon Krempel who published the monograph on Nicolaes Maes both agree that our painting is by Maes, I should also mention the opinion of Fred Meijer, the highly regarded former still life specialist at the RKD in The Hague. He proposes an attribution to Maes’ stepson, Justus de Gelder (of whom only signed painting is known and who apparently never became a professional painter) or a collaboration between Maes and de Gelder.
About Nicolaes Maes
Dordrecht 1634 – 1693 Amsterdam
Painter of genre scenes and of portraits; he also painted a few religious scenes.
He was the son of a prosperous merchant.
He began his training with a local master of average quality in his native city as a draughtsman, completing it with a study of painting under Rembrandt in Amsterdam. He arrived around 1650 in Rembrandt’s studio, at the very young age of about 15/16, and remained here until 1653.
Maes returned after his studies to Dordrecht.
One year later, in January 1654 he married a local widow, Adriana Browers. Adriana had first been married with a preacher, Arnoldus de Gelder, who died in August 1652.
Maes possibly stayed in Antwerp for some time in the middle of the 1660s, but returned to Dordrecht.
He finally settled in Amsterdam by 1673, where he remained until his death in 1693.
Nicolaes Maes started in Dordrecht at the age of 19 as an independent artist. In his early years, from about the time of his return to Dordrecht in 1653 until 1660, Nicolaes Maes specialized in genre scenes (and he also painted some religious subjects). They were strongly marked by Rembrandt's influence, capturing tenderness and intimacy with a great deal of chiaroscuro and warm, glowing, harmoniously combined colours. In Maes’ paintings the most daily routine changes into events of solemn dignity. His early domestic scenes probably influenced Pieter de Hooch and other Delft painters in their choice of representing an interior as a suite of rooms rather than as a shallow, three-walled, enclosed box.
From 1656 onwards Maes began to focus more and more on small- scale portraits. Around the middle of the 1660s, possibly between 1665 and 1667 Maes probably moved to Antwerp, where he fell under the influence of Flemish artists. His Antwerp period coincides with a further change in style and subject. He devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture, and abandoned the style of his earlier work for a careless elegance which suggests the influence of Anthony van Dyck. Houbraken mentions this trip to Antwerp, but it is also possible that he underwent the Flemish influence through Dutch painters from The Hague, such as Adriaen Hanneman and Jan Mytens.
He adapted to the taste of that time, choosing for lighter, brighter, more colourful and elegant compositions. Arnold Houbraken (1660 – 1719), the famous biographer of the Dutch painters, describes this transformation in the second volume of his “De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen” on page 274: “Nicolaes Maes … learned the art of painting from Rembrandt but lost that way of painting early, particularly when he took up portraiture and discovered that young ladies preferred white to brown.” (“Nicolaas Maas had … de Schilderkonst by Rembrant geleerd, maar verliet vroeg die wyze van schilderen, te meer toen hy zig tot het schilderen van pourtretten begaf, en wel zag dat inzonderheid de jonge Juffrouwen meer behagen namen in het wit dan in 't bruin.”)
In 1673 Maes moved to Amsterdam, the cultural and economic centre of the Dutch Republic. He settled here as a portrait painter, filling the vacancy left by the disappearance of Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613 – 1670) and Abraham van den Tempel (1622/23 – 1672).
Maes’ closest followers were Reinier Covijn, Cornelis Bisschop and his son-in-law Justus de Gelder.
About Justus de Gelder
Dordrecht 1650 – 1707/1724 Vianen
De Gelder was the stepson of Nicolaes Maes. He was 3,5 years old when his mother married Maes. He must have been a pupil of his stepfather.
De Gelder probably never turned into a professional painter, as he is documented as a merchant (in 1678 in Dordrecht) and as Alderman in Vianen (from 1685 onwards).
He is further documented in Dordrecht in 1671, in Delft in 1677 (his marriage), in Dordrecht again in 1678, in Amsterdam in 1679 and between 1685 and 1707 in Vianen.
There is only one signed painting known by de Gelder; it is in a Dutch private collection, it is known at the RKD, The Hague and it was published by Leon Krempel in his 1999 monograph on Nicolaes Maes.
Maes or de Gelder?
Nicolaes Maes painted genre scenes at the start of his career, after he left the Rembrandt studio, between 1653 and 1660. From 1656 onwards he painted more and more portraits and thus he gradually dropped the influence of his master, Rembrandt.
The identification of his genre scenes between 1656 and 1660 seems extremely difficult, seeing the fact that Maes’ style is changing fundamentally.
As you can see in my documentation with comparative works the opinions of the experts on Maes’ late genre scenes tend to diverge:
- Werner Sumowski wrote the six volume “bible” on the Rembrandt pupils. He published these between 1983 and 1994. Our painting was published in the Sixth Volume in 1994.
- William W. Robinson, who wrote his unpublished doctoral dissertation in 1996 on “The early works of Nicolaes Maes, 1653 to 1661”, seems to refute almost all of the late Maes paintings accepted by Sumowski.
- Finally in 1999 Leon Krempel published the monograph on Nicolaes Maes. Although very critical he seems to have recuperated a fair number of those late genre paintings as Nicolaes Maes, which had been refused by Robinson.
As to our painting, the opinion of these three experts does of course also diverge:
- According to Werner Sumowski in 1994 our painting is definitely by Nicolaes Maes. He dates it around 1656 – 1658.
- William W. Robinson in 1996 states it is painted by a follower of Nicolaes Maes.
- Finally in 1999 Leon Krempel in his monograph on Nicolaes Maes publishes it as a Nicolaes Maes. He also discusses the opinions of the other experts, in particular that of Fred Meijer, who has not published on Maes, but who is the highly regarded specialist on still lifes from the RKD at The Hague. Meijer considers it a painting by Maes’ stepson, Justus de Gelder. Krempel does not accept this attribution for he dates our painting circa 1659, while de Gelder was only born in 1650. There is only one signed painting known by de Gelder: it dates from 1671. De Gelder was a pupil of Maes, but did not settle as a painter.
The two main experts on Maes, Sumowski and Krempel, think our painting to be by Nicolaes Maes, dating it as a late genre scene (1656 – 1658 or circa 1659).
Robinson in his unpublished doctoral thesis states it is by a follower of Maes.
Meijer, who has not published on Maes, proposes an attribution to Justus de Gelder. In an oral communication Fred Meijer told me start of July 2012 that a collaboration between Maes and de Gelder is also possible.
Who am I do doubt the opinion of Mr. Meijer? But personally I do not see my painting as a de Gelder. And honestly I think it is too good to have been painted by a non professional artist, be it the stepson and pupil of Nicolaes Maes.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is such a beautiful painting, a classic of Dutch Baroque painting.