This confident portrait of a young man is a textural show-case for Pickenoy’s exceptional skill at capturing both a sitter’s likeness, and their sumptuous costume. In the seventeenth century Dutch merchants and magistrates dressed themselves in black, the costliest colour available for dying clothes. The sheen and pattern on the silk damask is effortlessly portrayed to give a sense of substance and movement. His collar and matching cuffs of Flemish bobbin lace are equally expensive status symbols, as are his embroidered buff-coloured gloves and the ‘Turkey rug’ on the table. This oriental rug is also an allusion to trade – the likelihood that this sitter was a merchant.
Hugo Francis Meynell Ingram (1822 – 1871), at Temple Newsam, Leeds, West Yorkshire; his widow,
The Hon. Emily Charlotte Meynell Ingram, née Wood (1840 – 1904);
her nephew, Edward Frederick Lindley Wood (1881 – 1959), 1st Earl of Halifax, styled Lord Irwin 1925 – 1934 & Viscount Halifax 1934 – 1944, thence by descent;
Christie’s, London, Old Master Pictures, 13 December 1996, lot 15;
Private collection, England.
London, Royal Academy, 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938, no. 184 (as ‘Michiel Jansz. Mierevelt), lent by Viscount Halifax, Bolling Hall, Bradford.
R.A. exhibition catalogue, 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938, p. 82;
and An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of 17th Century Art in Europe, 1938, p. 65, illus.
Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy might not be a household name nowadays, but between 1625 and 1640 he was the most sought-after portrait painter in the thriving city of Amsterdam. He kept this position even when Rembrandt in the early 1630s settled there and quickly became a successful portrait painter as well. He only lost his leading position in the 1640s to his probable pupil Bartholomeus van der Helst (c. 1613 – 1670).
Pickenoy was the son of Elias Claesz, an armorial mason, and Heijltje Laurens d’Jonge, both from Antwerp. In 1621 Nicolaes Eliasz married Levina Bouwers. Although we don’t know with whom Pickenoy trained, most probably it was with Cornelis van der Voort (1576 – 1624), the leading Amsterdam portraitist of his time. Apparently, Pickenoy took over Van der Voort’s portrait workshop, after the latter’s death. His career took off seriously in 1625, when he received no less than three commissions for corporate group portraits. In 1634 he acted as headman of the Amsterdam painters’ guild.
Besides several biblical and mythological scenes, Pickenoy’s production largely consists of portraits of individual sitters, of which the present work is powerful example. In addition, he painted no less than five civic guard paintings and four group portraits for craft guilds or charitable institutions, which makes him even more productive in this field than Bartholomeus van der Helst.
Pickenoy is known as a highly skilled specialist of portraits that, to the modern beholder, could occasionally make a somewhat earnest impression: smiling hardly ever occurs. Recent research however has made it clear that his clients must have appreciated him precisely because of this. In their view, good portrait painters like Pickenoy and his Amsterdam colleague Thomas de Keyser (1596 – 1667) were able provide their sitters with ‘tranquillitas’: the neo-stoic ideal of keeping control of one’s emotions. Contemporary viewers must have been aware of this intention as well. By portraying the sitter with a relatively unanimated facial expression, the painter stressed or enhanced his virtues. After all, only serious men, capable of keeping their passions in balance by reason, were fit to fulfil responsible tasks in trade or government.
However, despite these unwritten artistic rules, portrait painters like Pickenoy and De Keyser regularly developed and adopted novelties, which make their sitters appear more spontaneous and natural. From 1632 onwards, Rembrandt would, working in the studio of Hendrick Uylenburgh, freely experiment with these challenges in his portraits as well. Pickenoy vividly contributed to these experiments, primarily in his many group portraits.
Yet, he also applied more natural poses in his individual portraits. This well-preserved portrait of an anonymous gentleman proves the artist was perfectly able to suggest subtle movement and action. Pickenoy gave his client the best of both worlds: honourable and realistic likenesses, that put a premium on an accurate portrayal of his costly wardrobe, as well as his tranquillitas.