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by Michiel van Musscher (ROTTERDAM 1645 - 1705 AMSTERDAM), A Peasant Offering Poultry To A Lawyer, 1660s


04 JULY 2013 | 10:30 AM BST

Michiel van Musscher
signed and dated centre right on the letter: MvMusScher/ Ao166...(?)
oil on canvas
45.6 by 40.5 cm.; 17 7/8 by 16 in.

Dr. C.J.K van Aalst, Huis-te-Hoevelaken, Holland;
With Hans Cramer, The Hague;
With Brod Gallery, London, 1969;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, 18 April 1980, lot 89.
The Hague, Hans Cramer Gallery, 1965-1966, no. 8.
J.W. Von Moltke ed., Dutch and Flemish Old Masters in the collection of Dr. C.J.K van Aalst, Verona 1939, p. 226;
P.C. Sutton, L. Vergara, and A. Jensen Adams, Love Letters; Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer, London 2003, p. 24, reproduced fig. 17;
P.J.J. van Thiel, 'Michiel van Musscher's vroegste werk naar aanleiding van zijn portret van het echtpaar Comans' in Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, vol. 17, 1969, p. 6;
O. Ydema, Carpets and their Dating in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540-1700, Woodbridge 1991, p. 139, no. 137 (where the table carpet is described as a "Lotto" type carpet).

During his lifetime Michiel van Musscher was primarily a portrait painter but today he is best known for his superb genre scenes, of which this painting is an excellent example. Van Musscher enlivens his rich interior with carefully characterised, portrait-like figures painted in cool, almost metallic tones. Many of his domestic interiors, including this painting, were executed in the 1660s and are signed and dated.

Van Musscher trained in Amsterdam firstly with the history painter Martinus Zaagmolen (c.1620-69) in 1660 and then with Abraham van den Tempel in 1661. He honed his skills as a genre painter during 1665 when he worked with Gabriel Metsu and in 1667 completed his studies with Adriaen van Ostade. During the 1660s he painted both genre scenes and portraits but by the 1670s was painting portraits almost exclusively.

Van Musscher’s genre scenes are amongst his finest work and he was an adept describer of interior space. Here the lawyer’s study is richly portrayed with a multitude of carefully described details. An opulent Lotto carpet covers the desk on which the lawyer works, the window in front is finely glazed and a painting hangs on the back wall, to the right of a large fireplace. Undoubtedly Van Musscher's lawyer was a wealthy practitioner but unlike other artists of the period he is not satirising the accumulation of wealth and his lawyer is depicted as a man who works hard for his earnings. The study is full of the lawyer’s tools of learning: to the left of his desk is a large bookshelf replete with legal tomes, on top of the far back cabinet is a globe and more books, whilst on the desk itself a large book is propped open beside an hour glass, and on the floor next to the desk in the immediate foreground a pile of books stands ready for consultation.

Another version of this composition was sold in these Rooms, 10 July 1968, lot 116. This painting is similar in composition to the present lot although the roles of the lawyer and peasant are less exaggerated. In the present painting the lawyer is older and more learned and the peasant poorer and more deferential. Van Musscher depicts the lawyer as a bent and learned figure, dressed in a cap and gown, with his forehead furrowed from years of squinting over books by candlelight. He is captured in the act of turning from his desk, paper in hand, to receive the peasant who brings payment, in the form of a turkey and a basket of eggs. The peasant assumes a deferential stance, knees bents, cap in hand. Although his clothing is respectable his face is weathered and wrinkled from years of toiling outdoors and straw pokes out of the back of his shoes.