This delicate portrait of a young Dutch girl, presumably from Middelburg, is one of the first painted by Johnson after his departure from England to the Netherlands in 1643, where he settled in Middelburg, before moving to Amsterdam in 1646. Presented within a simple feigned stone oval, it is similar in design to Johnson’s early British portraits, notably of members of the Dutch Reformed Church in England, of which the artist was himself a close member. For example, it mimics the format of Johnson’s portraits painted in 1634 of the Dutch minister of Austin Friars, Willem Thielen (1596 – 1638) and his wife, Maria de Fraeye (1605 – 1682), themselves from Middelburg, (now in the Catherijneconvent Museum, Utrecht), and latterly of their eldest son, painted in 1644 after the Thielen family’s return to their native city (Private collection, Amsterdam), and all set within the familiar marble cartouche. It is fair to assume that this young girl is very likely the child of someone in Johnson’s close circle in Middelburg – painted at a time when he would have been re-establishing himself and his network.
John H.H.V. Lane (d. 1917), King's Bromley Manor, Lichfield;
Christie's, London, 12 December 1912, lot 136 (420 gns.); with A. Wertheimer, London; from whom acquired by Adolph Hirsch, London; by descent to his grandson George Pinto (1929 – 2018).
Johnson must have been a pragmatic character, with a resilience and grit to his personality. It was a bold move to uproot his family and practice to the Protestant northern Netherlands in 1643. As Vertue describes, he ‘stayed in England till the Troublesom civil war. Being terrifyd with those apprehensions & the constant persuasions of his wife he went to Holland.’ His wife was herself from a Dutch migrant family, so her encouragement is not surprising. They settled firstly in the prosperous city of Middelburg, before moving to Amsterdam in 1646. In 1652, the artist and his family moved on again, this time to Utrecht, where he was to be acclaimed as the leading portrait painter of that city.
His experience painting both the British aristocracy and also the gentry must have given him an appealing social ease, a mercurial ability to engage with a broad cross-section of society. His skill in capturing a likeness, but also in painting costumes and sumptuous fabrics did not go unobserved. The artist’s chameleon-like ability to adapt his portraiture to the taste and style of the country in which he was now living ensured his continuing success, and his Dutch-period works are notable for their finesse and naturalism, executed with a more subdued palette in keeping with the restrained Dutch sensibility.