Portrait of a Man with a Shell

Thomas de Keyser (Dutch, Amsterdam (?) 1596/97–1667 Amsterdam)

ca. 1625–26
Oil on wood
9 3/8 x 6 3/4 in. (23.8 x 17.1 cm)
Credit Line:
From the Collection of Rita and Frits Markus, Bequest of Rita Markus, 2005
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    The man is a shell collector, in an age when foreign trade opened up a wide world of natural curiosities. His wife holds a balance, symbolizing the virtue of temperance. De Keyser was one of the leading portraitists in Amsterdam during the 1620s and 1630s. He is best known for small full-length portraits, but he also painted large group portraits and small bust- and half-length portraits.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Provenance

    [Sir George Donaldson, London]; Edward Rathbone Bacon, New York (by 1911–d. 1915; his estate, 1915–at least 1919; cat., 1919, no. 184); sale, Christie's, London, November 19, 1920, no. 118 ("the property of a gentleman"), for £105 to Duits; [C. Duits, London, from 1920]; [Goudstikker, Amsterdam, in 1926]; E. A. Veltman, Bloemendael, The Netherlands; Frits Lugt, The Hague; [Alfred Brod, London, by 1955–at least 1965]; sale, Christie's, London, December 10, 1993, no. 271, as "A Conchologist holding a Nautilus Shell," for £20,700 to Naumann; [Otto Naumann, New York, 1993–94; sold to Markus]; Frits and Rita Markus, New York (1994–his d. 1996); Rita Markus, New York (1996–d. 2005)

  • Exhibition History

    Copenhagen. location unknown. 1922, no. 67 or 76 [see Exh. The Hague 1926 and Exh. London 1955].

    The Hague. Pulchri Studio. "Collection Goudstikker Amsterdam," March 13–April 4, 1926, no. 85.

    London. Alfred Brod. "Dutch and Flemish Masters," October 13–November 19, 1955, no. 10.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

    Museum of the City of New York. "Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson," April 4–September 27, 2009, no catalogue.

  • References

    Rudolf Oldenbourg. Thomas de Keysers Tätigkeit als Maler. Leipzig, 1911, pp. 21, 76, 84, no. 98, pl. IV, as in the collection of Ed. R. Bacon, New York; considers it an apparently autograph replica of the version now in the Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

    James B. Townsend and W. Stanton Howard. Memorial Catalogue of Paintings By Old and Modern Masters Collected by Edward R. Bacon. New York, 1919, p. 148, no. 184, as formerly in the collection of Sir George Donaldson, London.

    Ann Jensen Adams. "The Paintings of Thomas de Keyser (1596/7–1667): A Study of Portraiture in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam." PhD diss., Harvard University, 1985, vol. 3, pp. 19–20, no. 5 Version 1, ill., as location unknown; judging from a photograph, states that it appears to be an inferior copy of the version now in Allentown; notes that since the identity of the sitter is unknown, the meaning of the shell is impossible to interpret with certainty, but adds that the shell included in a portrait of Jan Govertsz van der Aar by Hendrick Goltzius (1603; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) is thought to refer to the sitter's collection of shells.

    Inaugural Exhibition of Old Master Paintings. Exh. cat., Otto Naumann. New York, 1995, unpaginated, ill. (color), includes it among pictures sold by him in 1994 and identifies it as the pendant of the "Portrait of a Woman Holding a Balance" (MMA, 2005.331.6).

    Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, London. July 5, 1995, p. 252, under no. 295, mentions, under the entry for the pair of pendants now in a private collection, Switzerland, three additional versions of the man's portrait, two of which seem to be the MMA work.

    Lawrence W. Nichols in Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617): Drawings, Prints and Paintings. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2003, p. 330 n. 115, calls it "A Conchologist Holding a Nautilus Shell," mentioning it among portraits of shell collectors by Dutch artists.

    Walter Liedtke in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2005–2006." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 64 (Fall 2006), p. 36.

    Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. x, 394–400, no. 98, colorpl. 98, fig. 95, dates it and its pendant about 1625–26.

    Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 65, 67.

  • Notes

    This picture is the pendant to "Portrait of a Woman Holding a Balance" (MMA 2005.331.6). The two works probably date to about 1625–26.

    Two additional versions of the two pendants are known. One pair (each oil on wood, 9 1/4 x 7 in.) is in a private collection in Switzerland. The portrait of the man is dated and inscribed (upper right): Anº. 1626. / ÆT: 59; the woman's portrait is dated and inscribed (upper left): Anº. 1628 / ÆT: 61. The two figures are closer to the picture plane than those in the MMA paintings, and the hands and attributes are omitted.

    The Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania, owns a version of the man that is octagonal, oil on copper, 9 7/8 x 7 1/2 in. It is signed TDK in monogram. The probable pendant to this work was formerly in the collection of Adolphe Schloss (seized by the Nazis in 1943), and is referred to in the literature as oval, or possibly octagonal, oil on copper, 9 7/8 x 7 5/8 in.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History