DBY_ERM_ILKEM_HOWITT_BEQUEST_23
Topic: Artist

This has nothing whatsoever to do with Greuze, nor is it of Ceres; it is instead a slightly risqué late 17th-century English fancy picture.

Is it possible that it is a copy of a lost Simon Verelst? The young woman's physiognomy is very similar to that found in his pictures, and the still life would be a characteristic inclusion, but the quality doesn't seem to justify an actual attribution to him.

Alastair Laing, Entry reviewed by Art UK

29 comments

Jacinto Regalado,

This could be early 18th century. The fruits are better done than the figure, and Verelst was better at still lifes than portraits. It might be by him, but not necessarily. Did he do still life elements for other portrait painters?

Louis Musgrove,

This face looks a bit familiar.Is it Mdm Pompadour???

Jacinto Regalado,

How can one be sure this is English as opposed to French? And how can one be sure that, even if this is not a Ceres, it is not a portrait of an actual woman as Ceres?

Jacinto Regalado,

I cannot prove it, but I think this picture is French, or it feels more French than British to me.

Louis Musgrove,

Yes French is a distinct possibility - about 1740ish I would suggest. And I am sure everyone knows the symbolism of the fig held in the ladies hand and the fresh juicy grapes offered on a platter :-) .

Howard Jones,

Is there any information on the back of the painting? Was there an original frame? Can the bowl or salver be dated?

Howard Jones,

I notice that this picture is now being used to welcome visitors to the Art UK website. It is a very stylish and timeless which might make an attractive book cover.

A lot of care and skill has been taken painting the fruits on offer and I suspect the lady portrayed had very special relationship with the patron or the artist but now her identity is a complete mystery. A perfect challenge for the Art Detective team.

Erewash Borough Council,

Hello this is Kate, the Collections Officer at the museum that has care of this picture, Erewash Museum in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. I'm pleased to see so much interest in this picture. I'll look into the question of the images on the back and the frame and will report back. Any more ideas do let me know

Jacinto Regalado,

In my opinion, Louis, this is earlier than 1740s--probably pre-1720.

Jacinto Regalado,

The woman could easily be a courtesan, as in someone's mistress, with a mythological veneer as cover. It is not out of the question, however, that she's an aristocrat in the guise of a goddess, which was common enough. Still, in the latter case the attributes chosen should have been less provocative or salacious, such as a sheaf of wheat and a scythe, for instance.

Mark Wilson 01,

Depictions in the 17th century of Ceres with mainly fruit rather than the usual sheaf of corn or sickle are not unknown. Here's a couple of Jan Brueghel the Younger's:

https://www.art.com/products/p12262893-sa-i1633407/jan-brueghel-the-younger-ceres-goddess-of-abundance-17th-century.htm

http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/583/jan-brueghel-the-younger-hendrik-van-balen-landscape-with-ceres-allegory-of-earth-flemish-1630s/

but in truth I wouldn't get too focused on titles because as they may not be that well documented. Like a lot of the Erewash pictures, this comes from the Howitt Bequest which is discussed on an earlier Art Detective thread for another picture in it:

https://www.artuk.org/artdetective/discussions/discussions/is-this-portrait-dutch-or-english-who-is-the-sitter

and the collection doesn't really that much information, no doubt because the donor wasn't the main collector (Enoch Dawson Howitt, a London surgeon) but his son. Even though most of the paintings are 19th century less than half have a secure attribution. Howett Snr must have enjoyed collecting what was effectively contemporary art, but wasn't fussed about who it was by. So this could well have been a fairly recent copy or pastiche that appealed to him.

While this clearly isn't based on one of Greuze's sentimental and creepy nymphets (even his boys are creepy nymphets), I don't think it's based on Simon Verelst either. He was known as the 'God of Flowers' and even his portraits frequently have them in. There are a few studies of grapes, but a picture with only fruits seem uncharacteristic.

If you commissioned a picture from Simon Verelst and you wanted a bit more than a simple portrait, his wonderful flowers are what you asked to add, not a fruit bowl, however lascivious. And he doesn't normally seem to produce the sort of 'Get yer tits out for the Gods' mythological pictures that were common at the Restoration court. There's certainly a similarity to his faces here, but that may just be a coincidence.

So this could just be a 19th century confection to make a slightly saucy pseudo-Restoration image that isn't even pretending to be authentic.

Howard Jones,

Could there be a link between this picture and the poem'The Rape of the Lock' by Swift (1712)? Arabella Fermor the inspiration for the poem was famed for her beauty. Pictures show her with her hair flowing long and loose and it was the theft of a lock of her beautiful hair stolen from her at a social gathering which became the focus of Swift's much admired poem.

Initially well received by Arabella's family it became apparent that Swift's work was not as innocent as it appeared at first sight.

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https://i1.wp.com/josbd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Belinda.jpg?resize=200%2C245&imgrefurl=https://www.josbd.com/character-of-belinda-in-the-rape-of-the-lock/&h=245&w=200&tbnid=ItF0HyW11ymlUM&tbnh=245&tbnw=200&usg=AI4_-kRUsqW7iG5M59qe3JTZSUnM0KkGmA&vet=1&docid=lLTqOZbdwy4qfM&hl=en_GB


Howard Jones,

Regarding the poem 'The Rape of the Lock' above it should of course say by Alexander Pope and not Swift.

Jacinto Regalado,

Mark, the Brueghels you link are of Ceres herself, not a woman as Ceres. I suppose our picture could be a deliberately archaizing 19th century work, but even then I wouldn't call it pseudo-Restoration, since it looks later than that (meaning late 17th or early 18th century, and I would favor the latter).

One element not so far commented on is the silver dish.

It's undulating, sculptural form is reminiscent of the 'auricular' wares of the van Vianen and Lutma such as the Dolphin Basin in the V&A.

Howard Jones,

There is a painting dated 1781 showing a woman with a very similar hair style and she is even wearing two small pearl circlets.

https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/was-green-fashionable-in-the-18th-century/

The painting, at the 'All Things Georgian' site, is a miniature of Mrs Russell signed and dated by the outstanding miniaturist John Smart. The image is courtesy of Philip Mould's Historical Portraits.

In the 1780s many women started wearing extreme hairdos reflected in humorous cartoons of the time, but the hair style for Mrs Russell is basically very similar to that of our mystery lady. I suspect the woman in the Erewash painting with her elegant Georgian neck and fair skin is also a portrait of English Lady even if she is in a in a Classical guise.

Checking on the wed virtually every other still life paintings of fruit is displayed in bowls of china. The silver bowl offered for this still life is quite unusual but one thing we know the English cherished at this time was Georgian silver.

Howard Jones,

A painting auctioned by Sotherby's 7th May 2020, Old Masters lot 57, might be of interest in connection with the painting from the Howitt collection.

The painting is a still life with grapes and figs set on a silver dish similar to the one above. The signed painting was by Herman Verelst 1641 - 1702 an elder brother of Simon Verelst the suggested artist for the painting being discussed. There are some auctioneers notes saying that Herman Verelst was noted earlier in his career for still life paintings depicting fruit set on silver plates.

Despite this I believe the Erewash painting shows a later Georgian lady who is presented in a less formal style than we see with 17th Century portraits. The painting of the grapes and figs also differs.

https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2020/old-masters-including-portrait-miniatures-from-the-pohl-stroeher-collection/herman-pietersz-verelst-still-life-of-peaches-a

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Howard, the still life could be by Herman Verelst or possibly his brother Simon, and they both painted portraits. I still wonder if either or both of them functioned as still life painters for portraits by other people, something akin to drapery painters, though I suppose a Verelst expert may be hard to come by.

Howard Jones,

This family of artist appears to be more extensive than the Bruegels. Besides Simon and Herman there was a third and younger brother the artist Johan. Then Herman had a daughter Maria and a son named Cornelis who in turn had a son named William Verelst. They all produced quantities of fine paintings.

Maria Verelst 1680-1744, was based in London and produced fine portraits and some still life studies and at least one painting with both. She was also associated with the important early Georgian Scottish artist William Aikman.

Perhaps if the painting is just described as by Verelst this would cover a lot of options! The original founder of the dynasty Pieter Hermansz Verelst had himself produced exceptional portraits earlier in the 17th Century. See Christie's; Old Masters 2nd July 2013 lot 8,

https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/pieter-harmensz-verelst-head-study-of-a-5701762-details.aspx

Some more information on the painting itself such as a signature, a rear view or any information about a frame might just be helpful.

I contacted Karen Hearn, the former Curator of 16th & 17thC British Art at Tate Britain. She commented that although it does have "a Simon Verelst-like air in the angle of the head and in the strong lighting" the way the flesh-tones have been painted lacks his usual "polished precision" and the brushwork is looser. However, the "hairstyle and garments look just after 1700 in date". She also believes that its symbolism must surely be erotic and not representative of Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain and agricultural fertility.
The fig does after all have Biblical connotations of the loss of innocence, especially sexual.

Jacinto Regalado,

I can easily see an erotic element, but woman-as-Ceres would provide respectable cover for the real intent, so that could still have been the official subject or title. I agree that this is most likely Queen Anne period, but dating it as c. 1700 is reasonable enough.

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