Circle of Hugo van der Goes (Netherlandish, ca. 1470–75)
Oil on paper, laid down on wood
Overall 8 3/4 x 6 1/2 in. (22.2 x 16.5 cm)
Purchase, 2009 Benefit Fund, Hester Diamond Gift, Victor Wilbour Memorial Fund, Mary Harriman Foundation and Friends of European Paintings Gifts, Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, Marquand and Charles B. Curtis Funds, and University Place Foundation Gift, 2010
In this closely observed portrayal of an old man, the artist pays special attention to the effects of light upon the subject’s wrinkled face. This objective realism relates closely to the work of Hugo van der Goes, especially to his paintings of the early 1470s. Surviving portraits painted with oil on paper are relatively rare. It was intended either as an independent portrait or perhaps as a preliminary study for a larger painting.
The extraordinary quality and condition of this keenly affecting portrayal of an old man place it among the finest examples of early Netherlandish portraiture. Furthermore, paintings in the fragile medium of oil on paper laid down on wood rarely survive. Rather than being cut down from a larger composition, the tightly edited image was probably planned as an independent portrait. The painter may have found it practical to continue to work up in paint a likeness that he had already begun as a drawing on paper.
Closely observed and meticulously rendered in the manner of early Netherlandish painting, this portrait also conveys a psychological intensity and objective realism that relate it to the work of Hugo van der Goes. In its subtle illumination and attentive modeling, it is similar to male faces in Hugo's religious works, especially the Monforte altarpiece (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) of about 1470 and the Portinari altarpiece (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) of 1473–78. Indeed, the costume of the sitter—a purple robe with a fur collar and a deep green chaperon, or hat, with trailing cornets at the sides—dates to about 1470–75. Independent portraits by Hugo are extremely rare, and further investigations will help to situate this splendid example in its proper place within the context of Netherlandish portraiture.
[2010; adapted from Ainsworth 2010]
private collection (from about 1900); by descent through great-great-uncle and grandparents to private collection, Alsace, near Strasbourg (until 2008; sale, Tajan, Paris, June 26, 2008, no. 13, to Fogg and Feigen); [Sam Fogg Ltd., London, and Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York, 2008–10; sold to MMA]
Tableaux anciens et du XIXème siècle. Tajan, Paris. June 26, 2008, pp. 16–17, no. 13, ill. (color), as by a French artist working in Burgundy about 1450–70.
Maryan W. Ainsworth in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008–2010." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Fall 2010), p. 18, ill. (color).