A Selfportrait
A Selfportrait

A Selfportrait

Poelenburgh, Cornelis

Oil on Copper
17 x 12 cm
Signed

Provenance

…; collection Jan Jansz Gildemeester (1744-1799), Amsterdam;1…; ? collection
William Morland (1739-1815), Taunton and London; sale, Earl of Bessborough et al.
[section Morland?], London (Christie’s), 5-(7) February 1801 sqq., no. 9 (‘Polemberg.
His own Portrait’; ‘Himself. A Head of Polemberg’), £ 18 18s, to ‘L[ord] Blany’;
2 sale
[William] ‘M’[orland et al.], London (Christie’s), 17 February 1804 sqq., no. 49
(‘Polemberg, Portrait of Himself’), £ 5 10s, to [John?] Woodburn;
3 his sale, London
(Christie’s), 22-(23) March 1805 sqq., no. 52 (‘Polemberg, The Portrait of Polemberg –
highly finished’), £ 4 6s;
4…; collection George Watson Taylor (1771-1841), Middlesex
and Erlestoke Park, near Devizes, Wiltshire, 1806; his sale, London (Christie’s), 13
June 1823 sqq., no. 14 (‘Poelemborg. His own Portrait, small.’), £ 27 6s, to Hume for
William Beckford (1760-1844), Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire, October 1760;
5 transferred
to “Lansdown Hill”, near Bath, before May 1844; to his daughter Susan Euphemia,
Duchess of Hamilton (1786-1859); her granddaughter, Lady Mary Louise (1884-1957),
only child and principal heir of William Alexander Douglas-Hamilton (1845-95), 12th
Duke of Hamilton, who married in 1906 James Graham (1878-1954), Marquis of
Graham, who in 1925 succeeded his father as 6th Duke of Montrose, Brodick Castle,
Isle of Arran; thence by descent, Brodick Castle, The National Trust for Scotland, inv.
no. B/4998; anonymous sale [section ‘Property of a descendant of William Beckford &
The Dukes of Hamilton’], London (Sotheby’s), 14 January 2021, no. 32, £ 100,8006

Literature

N.C. Sluijter-Seijffert, Cornelis van Poelenburch (ca. 1593-1667), diss. University of
Leiden 1984, p. 245, no. 191
H.-J. Raupp, Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17.
Jahrhundert, Hildesheim, Zürich and New York 1984, p. 126, note 404,
p. 411 (ill.)
J. Wood, ‘Orazio Gentileschi and some Netherlandish artists in London: the patronage
of the Duke of Buckingham, Charles I and Henrietta Maria’, Simiolus XXVIII (2000-
01), p. 116 (ill.)
N. Sluijter-Seijffert, Cornelis van Poelenburch 1594/5-1667: the paintings, Amsterdam
2016, pp. 26, 155, 190 (note 65), no. 255

Cornelis van Poelenburch was one of the most influential artists in the Northern
Netherlands. He was the son of Simon van Poelenburch, a Catholic canon of Utrecht
Cathedral and, after his training with the leading Utrecht artist Abraham Bloemaert, he
spent his early career in Italy, becoming a member in Rome of the newly founded Dutch
and Flemish painters’ society Bentvueghels (Birds of a feather) and enjoying the
patronage of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II (1609-21) during his stay in
Florence. His flourishing career owed Poelenburch to his specialization in minutely
executed cabinet-size landscapes, often enlivened with mythological and Biblical stories
or with pastoral figures, that stroke a chord with a primarily aristocratic clientele. These
idyllic pictures, often based on meticulously observed drawings after life, blend the
innovative landscape visions of Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) and Paul Bril (1554-
1626), creating a wholly new type of painting through which Poelenburch was to exert a
considerable influence in turn, mainly in the Netherlands, with pupils and followers
active well into the early eighteenth century.7 However, Poelenburch’s acclaim was
international and his pictures were avidly collected outside The Netherlands, especially
in Italy and France.
8 Today, Poelenburch is recognized as one of the first Italianate
painters.

Poelenburch has also produced several portraits, invariably on a small format.9 As far as
known, the present work is his only painted self-portrait.
10 A drawn self-portrait that has
not been preserved was engraved by Coenraet Woumans (1619-61) for Joannes
Meyssens’ Image de divers hommes d'esprit sublime, qui par leur art et science
devraient vivre eternellement of 1649 and was then reused for Cornelis de Bie’s Het
gulden cabinet vande edele vry schilder-const in 1661 (fig. 1). Both books continue the
antique tradition of representing series of famous men (“uomini illustri”), but limited to
artists and sculptors in their own lifetime in an obvious attempt to emancipate the visual
arts, lifting artists to the elevated rank of writers, orators and philosophers. Only the
most celebrated painters, printmakers and sculptors were selected for these galleries of
portraits. The said portrait print shows Poelenburch at a more advanced age, with a somewhat troubled expression. Poelenburch’s likeness was in fact recorded at various
moments in his life and by various colleagues. Therefore, his face is also familiar
through these images. For instance, Anthony van Dyck painted an oil sketch around
1636 for his portrait project Iconographie (fig. 2).11 Van Dyck’s original, sadly, is no
longer extant.12

Fig. 1, Coenraet Waumans after Cornelis van Poelenburch, Zelfportret van Cornelis van Poelenburch, engraving, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Fig. 2, Pieter de Jode after Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of Cornelis van Poelenburch,
engraving, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


 

Two anonymous drawings executed in Rome in the early 1620s show small portraits of
the first hour members of the Bentvueghels with their names and sobriquets added and
also contain Poelenburch as a much younger man with his nickname ‘Satir’ (Satyr; figs.
3-4).

Fig. 3, Anonymous, Portraits of Bentvueghels (Poelenburch’s portrait in
the upper row, second to the left), Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle


Fig. 4, Anonymous, Portraits of Bentvueghels (Poelenburch’s portrait the
second to the left), Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen


Based on the sitter’s estimated age, our painting was probably painted around 1640
when the artist worked in England. Poelenburch did not represent himself as an artist,
but rather as a gentleman. Leaning on the backrest of his chair, the artist strikes a
confident pose, while the curtain in the background lends the small picture an air of
stateliness. The loose folds of his black attire which echo those in the curtain, infuse the
picture with a dynamic flavour and betray a debt to Van Dyck’s dashing portraits of the
British nobility. Poelenburch will have admired many of them during his London stay in
the proximity of the Stuart court.

Poelenburch was a truly cosmopolitan artist, accustomed to dealing with members of
the high aristocracy. By April 1627, Poelenburch had returned home from Italy. His
subsequent period in Utrecht was interrupted by a journey to France. An inscription on a
drawing of the Bastille relates that he was in Paris in 1631. It was in 1637 that the
English king Charles I (1600-49) asked Poelenburch to come to London. The invitation
was no doubt arranged through the king’s sister Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) who
resided in The Hague with her husband Frederick V of the Palatinate (1596-1632),
commonly known as the Winter Queen and King because of their short winter term as
King and Queen of Bohemia. The latter had been patrons of Poelenburch, who had
portrayed their two sons. In London the artist lived at two addresses one after another
with the King paying his rent and a handsome annual allowance of £ 60. On top of this,
the artist received separate payments for his paintings from the monarch. Poelenburch
would stay in London until 1641, having visited Utrecht meanwhile on a few occasions.

Our picture boasts an impeccable provenance. Its first recorded owner was Jan
Gildemeester, who was one of the foremost collectors in the Dutch Republic during the
last decades of the eighteenth century.13 Sometime later it came into possession of the
eccentric William Beckford (1760-1844), who was primarily known as the author of the
gothic novel The History of the Caliph Vatlick (1780). Beckford was immensely rich
and spent vast amounts of money on the construction of his magnificent residence
Fonthill Abbey (Wiltshire), one of the most remarkable examples of the Gothic Revival
in England. His fortune allowed Beckford to indulge in his greatest passion which was
collecting.14 Beckford turned out to be a revolutionary type of collector, unbound by
conventional intellectual or aesthetic prejudices. His collection, which spanned the
entire history of art from ancient to his own day, also contained Dutch and Flemish top
quality paintings.

Notes

1 As indicated in the catalogue for the sale George Watson Taylor, London (Christie’s), 13 June
1823 sqq., no. 14. 2 Copy Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; copy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 3 GPI, Br-238.
4 GPI, Br-316.
5 Copy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
6 With thanks to Christiaan Heiszeler for his help in reconstructing the provenance.
7 On which see: N.C. Sluijter-Seijffert, ‘The School of Cornelis van Poelenburch’, A. Golahny
et al. (eds.), In his Milieu: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Memory of John Michael Montias,
Amsterdam 2006, pp. 441-53.
8 On the taste for Poelenburch in France, see for instance: E. Korthals Altes, ‘Félibien, de Piles
and Dutch seventeenth-century paintings in France’, Simiolus XXXIV (2009-10), especially pp.
196-98.
9 For which see: N.C. Sluijter-Seijffert, ‘Cornelis van Poelenburch als portretschilder’, in: E.
Buijsen et al. (eds.), Face Book: Studies on Dutch and Flemish Portraiture of the 16th-18th
Centuries. Liber Amicorum presented to Rudolf E.O. Ekkart on the occasion of his 65th
Birthday, Leiden 2012, pp. 161-66.
10 The horseman, his head turned to the viewer, in the immediate left foreground of a picture
representing Clorinda saving Olindo and Sophronia from the Stake formerly attributed to
Bartholomeus Breenbergh but at present restored to its rightful place in Van Poelenburch’s
oeuvre as an early work of c. 1621 executed in Italy (Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada) is
probably also a self-portrait. See for this: Sluijter-Seijffert 2016 (see literature), p. 85.
11 For the print see M. Mauquoy-Hendrickx, L' iconographie d'Antoine van Dyck: catalogue
raisonné, 2 vols., Brussels 1991, vol. I, p. 129, no. 35. Van Dyck provided his printmakers with
oil sketches as modelli. 12 A painted anonymous copy resides in Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, inv.
KMS3224.
13 For his collection see: C.J. de Bruyn Kops, ‘De Amsterdamse verzamelaar Jan Gildemeester
Jansz.’, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum XIII (1965), pp. 79-114.
14 For Beckford’s activities as a collector of Old Master Paintings, see J. Chapel, ‘William
Beckford: Collector of Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and Prints’ in D. Ostergard et al.,
William Beckford (1760-1844): An Eye for the Magnificent, New Haven 2001, pp. 229-49.