Forward Continental European before 1800, Dress and Textiles 35 Who painted 'The Alchemist'?

The Alchemist
Topic: Artist

The related NICE entry records that this work is from the circle of David Teniers II.

The presence of urine samples would suggest that this is supposed to represent a doctor rather than an alchemist. There's a closer version than those referred to in the NICE record in Leipzig – see link http://www.myartprints.co.uk/a/david-teniers-the-younger/the-quack-doctor-1.html

Collection comment: It was purchased in the 1860s by the Cross Street Museum in Preston, before the Harris was built. A note in the record does say from the circle of David Teniers.

Al Brown, Entry reviewed by Art UK

35 comments

Toby Campbell,

This is absolutely a Teniers subject and parts of it seem really quite well painted. It may just be a question of the condition that makes it appear as "circle of". Is it possible to get a higher resolution photograph and perhaps one of the reverse? I also agree that this is more likely a depiction of a doctor rather than an alchemist.

Martin Kemp,

for the medical content try William Schupbach at the Wellcome Trust

Bart Cornelis,

Your comparison with Leipzig is spot on, and holding up a glass receptacle of some sort like that is the stock pose for a doctor or, more precisely, a quack. A high-resolution image is the only way to say a little more about the picture's quality, i.e. if it is by David Teniers or not. There are many copies after his work as there was a steady demand; his work was a standard ingredient of any respectable 18th-century collection throughout western Europe.

Susanna Avery-Quash,

I asked the National Gallery's Curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting, Betsy Wiesemen for her opinion and she told me: 'Can’t think of anything more to add to the comments already posted – that it’s close to Teniers, impossible to tell precise attribution without better image (and even then, there is virtually nothing known about the many copyists, followers & imitators of Teniers), and almost certainly a quack rather than an alchemist.'

Harris Museum & Art Gallery,


Many thanks for your comments. I have taken a picture of the back of the panel, unfortunately I can’t make out the writing on the top two labels. One is very faint and only part of the other remains. I would be happy to forward a hi-res image to Bendor, Toby and any of the other contributors to this discussion.

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Tim Williams,

The bottom label reads 'No. 12, Alchymist by D. Teniers'

The middle lot label likely is a persons name, possibly the vendor 'M. C/Gorpa(r)eal'?
(a close macro image of that ink inscription would be helpful)

The top label has something like 'No.6' then what's probably an old money price '9/?' on the right remnant. The left remnant has three printed 'S' letters on their side.

Alice Read,

Would the Harris like me to send the high res to Bendor, Toby and Andrew?

Greaeme Cameron,

To assist here is the panel verso cleaned up. The Auction Label reminds me of those from East German State Auctions of the 70's-80's during the "Cold War" when the Eastern Bloc State was seizing and selling residents goods in exchange for "Hard Currency" to aid the struggling Communist regime.
The inscribed name seems to read "Kuborpheal" or a like name. The lower section Label is a later (English speaker's) Owner's Inventory or else Auctioneer's Label, reading- "No 12 Alchymist by D Teniers" and a No. "15"

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Greaeme Cameron,

I had not intended to contribute much further for several reasons, but for what it's worth have thought this may be useful in this instance.
In regard to the work itself the following observations may add to the resolution.

It is here shown "cleaned" and size compared with the Leipzig work. It appears a close version of that "original?", yet with many differences. The dress and items of the Side Table seem of reasonable quality, whist the face, hands and other aspects appear not as well rendered.

Whether this is due to past cleaning and variously some parts being over painted is unclear, although the eyes and brows of the face are certainly "over painted". As over the decades the various members of the wider Teniers Family worked on a 'production line' basis, using repeated versions and variants of particular "Models", it would probably fall into that category, if unsigned, but is of a reasonable standard, and is most probably from the later 17thC. Panel dating could more definitively confirm the date.
I hope this may assist the research.

Toby Campbell,

From the image I would say this painting has every chance of being completely by David Teniers II. Similar date wise to the Smoker with a Beer Glass sold at Sothebys, New York in 2001 and subsequently with Johnny van Haeften. This was also unsigned but slightly smaller in size. Its quality (the Harris picture) suggests it is nothing to do with Apshoven or other followers. If the Harris would allow it I can send the hi res image to Fred Meijer at the RKD for his very expert opinion?

Harris Museum & Art Gallery,

Apologies for not replying sooner. Thanks Toby, very happy for you to forward the hi-res image to Fred Meijer

Toby Campbell,

Very sorry for the lengthy wait over this. I have spoken to Fred Meijer who does not believe the painting and also to Dr Margaret Klinge, the Teniers authority, who tells me this is a (probably 18thC) copy of a known original in a Private Collection in Belgium. Sorry not to have better news.

Al Brown,

It is of course disappointing that this work seems not to be by Teniers himself, but at least the discussion has identified that there is a original model by him.

And, to add to the record, there also appear some agreement about the subject: ie a (quack) doctor rather than and alchemist.

Alice Read,

Would the collection like me to amend the title?

Al Brown,

It would be good to amend the artist's name too, if the collection are agreeable.

In conclusion, we can say that the painting is by a follower of David Teniers the younger - could be as early as 17th century - and that the subject is a doctor, not perhaps necessarily a quack, rather than an alchemist.

Oliver Perry,

Indeed; Dunglison's Medical Lexicon mentions the term under "uromacy".

Harris Museum & Art Gallery,

Thank you all for your comments.

I have to admit I am a little disappointed the painting does not appear to be by David Teniers the younger but the discussion is fascinating. So much so, last week, I put the painting on display. Photos attached – apologies for the quality, I couldn’t manage to get a clear photo of both the painting and text!

I have included the website address in the text – hopefully our visitors will find it equally interesting and leave further comments and feedback.

I agree with Tim’s conclusion, but for now would like to leave the discussion open.

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Edward Stone,

Thank you Harris Museum & Art Gallery for these images. It's great that through this discussion the work has been made available for display and visitors will be able to further the conversation.

Would the collection like the artist information to be changed to ‘follower of’ David Teniers?

Harris Museum & Art Gallery,

Yes. Please can you update the artist information.

It is a lovely painting, and because of the lack of information one that has not been on display for many years.

Edward Stone,

The artist information has been updated to 'follower' of David Teniers II. For now, the discussion will be left open as the collection has requested.

Serge Gorelsky,

On the topic of "Alchemist vs. Doctor": back in the days, alchemists worked with urine a lot (the discovery of phosphorus in 1669 by Hennig Brand was made from solids after evaporating urine). So the flask with urine in the painting does not contradict a depiction of an alchemist.

Kieran Owens,

The subject of this painting is very similar to that in "The Guardroom with self-portrait of the artist" by Teniers, which was sold at Sotheby's in 2010:

https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Teniers_{LPARENTHESES} II)_-_A_guardroom_with_a_self-portrait_of_the_artist.jpg

Could it be that this is another self-portrait, of the artist as experimenter with the chemical components of paint and new paint formulae?

Kieran Owens,

The unusual spelling of the word as "Alchymist" on the label attached above leads on to Ben Johnson's "The Alchymist" and the phrase "He's in belief of Chymistry, so bold, if his dream last, he'll turn the age to gold". The following is a link to a mezzotints after Tenier's painting of "The Alchemist":

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/mezzotint-by-w-baillie-after-teniers-showing-an-alchemist-news-photo/90775053

https://www.loc.gov/item/2003654143/

http://www.ntprints.com/image/385281/the-alchemist-by-david-teniers-the-younger-1610-1690-in-the-west-corridor-at-polesden-lacey

Teniers' Alchemist looks much older than in this discussion's painting.

Tim Llewellyn concluded 3 years ago that this was by a “follower of David Teniers the younger”, possibly 17th c, and depicted a doctor rather than an alchemist. Although the collection asked for the discussion to be kept open, further progress seems unlikely and I agree with Tim's recommendations.

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