A young lady and her male visitors entertain themselves with music while a maid brings refreshments. The subject of elegant musical gatherings was popular in the Netherlands throughout the 1600s but flourished especially in the 1650s and 1660s, when Amsterdam became a prosperous and cosmopolitan city. Here the central figures are depicted in full action, their gestures vivid and demonstrative, as is typical for Metsu's oeuvre.
Metsu is among the few European artists who choose to include the rare "Chessboard" carpet in his paintings. Here, it is part of the rich interior decoration of a fine, if not palatial, town house. By using a similar palette for the figures' attire and other details, the rug—though hard to distinguish—resonates with the scene and becomes a status symbol along with the orange satin dress of the lady, the stylish coat of the man standing at her left, and the tapestry cushion lying on the floor. As a luxury good, the carpet also emphasizes the social ritual of the upper middle class, where singing and playing stringed instruments was a fashionable form of socializing.
Metsu began his career as a Leiden fijnschilder (fine-painter) in the manner of Gerrit Dou. By 1657 he had moved to Amsterdam where his technique gained a graceful fluidity, as is evident here. A woman and her male visitors (to judge from their coats, the walking stick, and the sword) entertain themselves with music as a maid brings refreshments. The bound atlas figure in the background suggests enslavement to sensual delights, which would have amused more than enlightened the contemporary viewer.
Metsu painted this canvas in 1659, when he was living in Amsterdam. The date on the sheet music to the lower left was questioned by Gudlaugsson (1968), who detected a difference in color between the signature and the date, claimed that the costumes and manner of execution supported a slightly earlier date, and suggested that the painting was finished or inscribed by the artist a couple of years after it was begun. In fact, the inscription was simply reinforced in a slightly different color at a later time.
The subject of elegant musical gatherings—often including a lute, a viola da gamba, and songbooks, as seen here—flourished during the 1650s. Singing and playing stringed instruments was a form of socializing among members of polite society, and new songs, many of them amorous, were eagerly circulated among amateurs. That the senses or heartstrings might turn into fetters is hinted at by the atlantes figure in the fireplace of the second room.
[2010; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed: (lower left, on paper) GMetsu [initials in monogram] / 1659; (on dowel at top of map) NOVISS[I]MA HOL[LANDIA . . .] (newest [map of the provinces of] Hol[land and West Friedland]) [The map, by Balthasar Florisz, van Berckenrode, was first published by Willem Jansz. Blaeu in 1620, and this is one of the two later editions, revised and reissued by Claes Jansz. Visscher in 1651 and 1656.]
?marquis de Voyer, Paris (in 1754); Elizabeth Valckenier-Hooft, Amsterdam (until 1796; her sale, Amsterdam, August 31, 1796, no. 25, for fl. 1,005 to Fouquet); Coquilery (sold for Fr 7,200 to Dulac); [Dulac; sold for Fr 10,000 to Robit]; Robit, Paris (until 1801; his sale, Paillet and Delaroche, Paris, May 11, 1801, no. 69, for Fr 4,500 to Delaroche); [Hypolite Delaroche and Alexandre Paillet, Paris, 1801–at least 1803; their sale, Delaroche and Paillet, Paris, April 18–25, 1803, no. 368, as "Un sujet de Concert," bought in]; sale [not held], Paris, June 26ff., [1809?], no. 29; sale, Paillet, Paris, March 14, 1810, no. 8; [John Smith, London, until 1825; sold for 400 gns. (£420) to Zachary]; M. M. Zachary, London (1825–at least 1828; his sale, Phillips, London, May 31, 1828, no. 45, as "The Interior of an Apartment, with the Portraits of the Artist and his Wife, and Jan Stein [sic]," for 500 gns. [£525] to Norton, bought in); Frederick Perkins, Chipstead Place, Seven Oaks, Kent (by 1832–90; his estate sale [not held], Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 3, 1889, no. 9; his estate sale, Christie's, London, June 14, 1890, no. 9, for £609 to Colnaghi); [Martin Colnaghi, London, 1890; sold to Marquand on October 20]; Henry G. Marquand, New York (1890)
London. British Institution. July 1832, no. 103 (as "A Musical Party; with a Portrait of the Painter, his Wife, and Jan Steen," lent by Frederick Perkins).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 63.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 118.
Leiden. Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal. "Gabriel Metsu," June 22–September 5, 1966, no. 42.
Kansas City, Mo. Nelson Gallery of Art and Atkins Museum. "Paintings of 17th Century Dutch Interiors," December 1, 1967–January 7, 1968, no. 12.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 48).
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting," March 18–May 13, 1984, no. 72.
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting," June 8–August 12, 1984, no. 72.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting," September 7–November 18, 1984, no. 72.
Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids Art Museum. "A Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands," April 16–August 15, 1999, no. 15.
Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "Vermeer y el interior holandés," February 19–May 18, 2003, no. 20.
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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Carpets of the East in Paintings from the West," March 11–June 29, 2014, no catalogue.
Toronto. Aga Khan Museum. "A Thirst for Riches: Carpets from the East in Paintings from the West," June 6–October 18, 2015, no catalogue.
J. B. Descamps. La Vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois. Vol. 2, Paris, 1754, p. 243, mentions "un Concert" by Metsu in the collection of the marquis de Voyer, possibly this picture.
W[illiam]. Buchanan. Memoirs of Painting, with a Chronological History of the Importation of Pictures by the Great Masters into England since the French Revolution. London, 1824, vol. 2, pp. 53–54, no. 69, as coming "from one of the finest collections in Holland, where it was always considered to represent the portraits of the painter himself, his wife, and Jan Stein [sic]"; as sold at Robit's sale for Fr 4,500, as no. 78 of Bryan's catalogue, and as "now again in Paris" [but see Ref. Fredericksen 1995].
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 4, London, 1833, p. 90, no. 53, mentions that the figures are "said to be" portraits of Metsu himself, his wife, and Jan Steen; gives provenance information.
"Things of To-Day." The Collector 3 (January 15, 1892), p. 81, erroneously as in the Cartwright collection.
W. Bode. "Alte Kunstwerke in den Sammlungen der Vereinigten Staaten." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 6, no. 1 (1895), p. 18, as from the Perkins collection.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 1, London, 1907, p. 303, no. 164, notes that the figures were "once thought" to be Metsu, his wife, and Steen.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909, vol. 1, p. 64, no. 63, ill. opp. p. 64.
Joseph Breck. "L'art hollandais à l'exposition Hudson-Fulton à New York." L'art flamand & hollandais 13, no. 2 (1910), p. 57 [published in Dutch in Onze Kunst 17 (February 1910), p. 43].
Kenyon Cox. "Dutch Pictures in The Hudson-Fulton Exhibition—III." Burlington Magazine 16 (February 1910), p. 305.
Isabella Errera. Répertoire des peintures datées. Vol. 1, Brussels, 1920, p. 294.
H[orst]. Gerson inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 24, Leipzig, 1930, p. 440.
Eduard Plietzsch. "Gabriel Metsu." Pantheon 17 (January 1936), pp. 5, 9.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 626, no. 1664, ill. (cropped).
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 229, no. 118, colorpl. 118.
Lawrence Gowing. Vermeer. London, 1952, p. 155 n. 142.
A[lbert]. P. de Mirimonde. "La musique dans les allégories de l'amour." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 68 (November 1966), p. 281, fig. 32.
S[turla]. J. Gudlaugsson. "Kanttekeningen bij de ontwikkeling van Metsu." Oud-Holland 83, no. 1 (1968), pp. 13–15, 24–25, fig. 5, suggests that Metsu added the date of 1659 one or two years after he painted the picture, at the time he sold it.
Uwe M. Schneede. "Gabriel Metsu und der holländische Realismus." Oud-Holland 83, no. 1 (1968), pp. 47, 50.
Franklin W. Robinson. "Gabriel Metsu, 1629–1667." PhD diss., Harvard University, 1970, pp. 75–77, 114, 124, 155–56, fig. 80.
Franklin W. Robinson. Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667): A Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age. New York, 1974, pp. 37, 49, 54, 59–60, 64, fig. 68.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. "Review of Robinson 1974." Art Bulletin 58 (September 1976), p. 458, suggests a date of about 1657 [see also Ref. Gudlaugsson 1968].
James A. Welu. "Vermeer and Cartography." PhD diss., Boston University, 1977, p. 64 n. 24, identifies the map.
Otto Naumann. Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1981, vol. 1, pp. 51–52, 55–56, fig. 44, dismisses Gudlaugsson's [see Ref. 1968] and Wheelock's [see Ref. 1976] suggestions on the dating of the picture.
Christopher Brown. Images of a Golden Past: Dutch Genre Painting of the 17th Century. New York, 1984, p. 137, ill. p. 119 (color).
Peter C. Sutton inMasters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1984, pp. 252–53, no. 72, ill. p. 252 and colorpl. 66, finds "little support for the eighteenth-century assumption that the three figures portray Metsu, his wife, and Jan Steen"; also finds no reason to doubt the date of 1659.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 184, 187–88, fig. 267.
Bärbel Hedinger. Karten in Bildern: Zur Ikonographie der Wandkarte in holländischen Interieurgemälden des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts. Hildesheim, 1986, p. 158 n. 329, fig. 81.
Ben Broos. Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1990, pp. 337–38 n. 26.
John Ingamells. The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures. Vol. 4, Dutch and Flemish. London, 1992, pp. 198–99 n. 4, under no. P206, p. 201, under no. P240.
Sylvia Jäkel-Scheglmann. Zum Lobe der Frauen: Untersuchungen zum Bild der Frau in der niederländischen Genremalerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1994, pp. 98, 100, fig. 100.
Burton B. Fredericksen. Letter to Walter Liedtke. December 15, 1995, corrects and clarifies some of the early provenance of the picture.
Hajo Düchting. Jan Vermeer van Delft im Spiegel seiner Zeit. Erlangen, 1996, p. 57, ill.
Marijke van der Meij-Tolsma inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 21, New York, 1996, p. 351.
JoLynn Edwards. Alexandre-Joseph Paillet: Expert et marchand de tableaux à la fin du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1996, pp. 155–56, 302, ill.
Henry M. Luttikhuizen et al. inA Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands. Exh. cat., Grand Rapids Art Museum. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1999, pp. 37, 72, 104, no. 15, ill. in color pp. 30 (detail) and 73.
Alejandro Vergara. Vermeer y el interior holandés. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 2003, pp. 138–39, 245, no. 20, ill. (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 190, 455–59, 542, no. 116, colorpl. 116.
Walter B. Denny. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New York, 2014, p. 135, fig. 123 (color).