A Portrait of the Artist's Father, Jan Pietersz van den Eeckhout (1584-1652), half-Length behind a Window Sill and a Green Curtain en Trompe l'Oeil

Oil on canvas
Signed, Inscribed and Dated 'AE 66/G-B Eeckhout/1651'
84 x 69 cms (33 x 27 1/4 inches)
Essay: 

Although Gerbrand van den Eeckhout’s father, Jan Pietersz. van den Eeckhout, sat for his son on at least three occasions (in 1644 and twice in 1651), the present portrait distinguishes itself by the painter’s tangible depth of feeling for the sitter. Perhaps that depth of feeling – so well captured and conveyed in paint – was what led the noted Rembrandt School scholar, the late Werner Sumowski, to opine that it was amongst Gerbrand’s finest pictures.

Conceived in the penultimate year of Jan’s life, the mood is contemplative. As well, it the only known portrait wherein Jan does not sport a hat – enabling us to see the subject as the artist himself did, in the relative informality of the family house. A goldsmith by training (as his signet ring signals), Jan dramatically elevated his social station when in early 1633 – less than two years after the death of his first wife, Grietje Claesdr. Leydeckers (1586-1631) – he wed Cornelia Willemsdr. Dedel (1594-1660), daughter of a wealthy Delft brewer and director of the East India Company (V.O.C) there. 

Probably in 1632, and almost certainly before 1633 (the year of the Eeckhout-Dedel betrothal), Jan had sat for a deft portrait by Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (1608/9-1651). Considering Jan’s rather ordinary standing – as a privileged but typical Amsterdam burgher – the fact that four portraits of him have come down to us, by two artists with direct links to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), is remarkable for the period.

The attractive format of the portrait – with its falling green curtain (en trompe l'oeil) conceits – is noteworthy not only for its pictorial flourish, but its engagement of Rembrandt and Rembrandt School conventions. Gerbrand had been in the studio of the master from 1636-1641, and it is no mere coincidence that two of his three portraits of his father make use of the curtain scheme. In addition to Rembrandt himself (the Edinburgh and Kassel pictures spring to mind), Ferdinand Bol made considerable use of trompe l'oeil – not least in his self-portrait of 1648 in Springfield, and it also appears in portraits by Govaert Flinck of the 1640s and 1650s.

Returning to Jan Pietersz. van den Eeckhout, the ability to study portraits of him from 1632/33, 1644, and 1651 (on two occasions, as mentioned), in side-by-side photographs, allows a rare view – for the pre-photographic era – into one single, aging face of a person without title. The effect of the features captured throughout, by both Backer and young Eeckhout, from the early 1630s to the early 1650s, underscores a countenance of continuity – the immutable nature of a proud Amsterdam citizen.

Here is a man of skilled craft, of family, of duty, of God. Indeed, in all his likenesses, Jan, of Mennonite confession, appears a consistently earnest, stern, and contemplative character. What sets apart this portrait, however, appears to be its tacitly memorializing nature, not long in advance of Jan’s death. One really wonders whether Gerbrand knew that his father – a figure he evidently held in highest esteem – was drifting toward the ‘vanishing point’ at the date of this sitting.

The present portrait was formerly in the collection of Edward Rogers Wood (1866-1941) and his wife, Euphemia (1867-1950). Edward Wood and his younger brother Frank Porter Wood (1882-1955) were prominent Canadian financiers and art collectors, whose illustrious collections of old master paintings were amongst the earliest and most significant in Toronto. The Wood brothers were clients of the legendary, albeit irascible, picture dealer Sir Joseph Duveen (1869-1939). Down to the present, Frank Wood remains the greatest patron of the Art Gallery of Ontario, having bequeathed the museum Dutch and Flemish paintings by Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Ruisdael, and in other schools, works by Thomas Gainsborough and Titian, amongst others. The dignified portrait of Jan Pietersz. van Eeckhout is known to have hung in dining room of the beaux-arts mansion of the Edward Woods – a structure later left to the University of Toronto, and subsequently, transferred to Glendon College, York University. 

MR

Provenance: 

G.N. Marten, Great Britain, 1893.
with Lawson Peacock, London, 1921.
Mr Edward Rogers Wood (1866-1941) and Mrs Euphemia Wood (1867-1950): inherited by her nephew; by descent to the previous owner, Canada.

Literature: 

A. Bredius, De 'Old Masters' in de Royal Academy, 1893, De Nederlandsche Spectator, 10, 1893, pp. 77
J.G. van Gelder, 'Gerbrand van den Eeckhout als portrettist', Kunsthistorische medelingen van het RKD 4, 1949, pp. 15-17, fig. 2
V. Manuth, Mit den Augen des Sohnes: Gerbrand van den Eeckhouts Porträts seines Vaters, in E. Buijsen, Ch. Dumas, V. Manuth, eds., Face Book: Studies on Dutch and Flemish Portraiture of the 16th-18th Centuries, Leiden, 2012, pp. 276-277, fig. 6