Art/ Collection/ Art Object

A Couple in an Interior with a Gypsy Fortune-Teller

Jacob Duck (Dutch, Utrecht, born ca. 1598–1600, died 1667 Utrecht)
ca. 1632–33
Oil on wood
Oval, 9 7/8 x 13 in. (25.1 x 33 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Richard W. Levy, 1971
Accession Number:
Not on view
In this early work of about 1630–35 Duck adapts a subject found in pictures by his older Utrecht colleagues, such as Dirck van Baburen, to a scale and setting typical of Amsterdam genre painters like Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster.
This small oval panel was painted about 1632–33, to judge from other pictures by the artist, the painting's composition and coloring (works by Dirck Hals as well as by Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster should be compared), and the style of the woman's clothing (see, for example, Rembrandt's Portrait of a Woman, dated 1632; 29.100.4). Curator John Walsh, who in the later 1970s titled it The Procuress, suggested on stylistic grounds that it must be earlier than one of Duck's very few dated works, the Merry Company of 1635 (private collection). This is consistent with the conclusions of other scholars.

The subject, however, has nothing to do with prostitution, although the arrangement of the three figures superficially recalls Utrecht paintings like Dirck van Baburen's The Procuress of about 1622 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). In Duck's picture, by contrast, a woman in very proper attire responds skeptically to the words of an old fortune-teller. The latter's boldly striped mantle, her appearance in general, and her "profession" make it clear that she is a gypsy. The lady's companion, who has placed his cloak and sword on the empty chair, wears an extravagantly feathered cap and an impatient expression. The setting must be a tavern, considering its plain decor, the glass of red wine to the far left, and the smoking requisites dropped onto the floor (a clay pipe, a metal tobacco box, and tobacco in a paper wrapper). The fireplace offers heat and nothing else; such a hearth in the kitchen of a Dutch house would be provided with cooking implements. A sure sign that the room is not part of a private home is that the gypsy has been admitted to it.

Salomon (1998) considers the painting as the earliest of several paintings by Duck featuring gypsy fortune-tellers. As she observes, Dutch literature and theater employed gypsies to assist the progress of romantic situations, usually by palm reading (which was given a physiological explanation at the time). Duck, however, in a departure from the lighthearted norm in Utrecht and elsewhere, shows a fortune-teller ill received by people who look incapable of having a good time.

In a painting probably dating from about five years later (private collection, Bern), Duck shows an elegantly dressed young woman in an inn declining to have her fortune read by an elderly gypsy woman, despite the encouragement of her handsome suitor. The figure of the gypsy recalls the one in The Met's picture but comes much closer to the study of an old gypsy woman in a drawing by Duck (Museen für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Lübeck). The man in the New York painting is repeated as a full-length figure leaning on a large sword in a somewhat later panel by Duck, Tavern Scene (formerly private collection, Sweden). That he painted the figure in half- and full-length versions suggests that he made a full-length drawing of the figure before he painted either panel.

The use of a broad oval format, which is common in works by Duyster, also is found in Duck's Bordello Scene of the 1630s (art market, 1975). The oak support of the New York painting is beveled on all sides and (despite some slight shaving around the edges) retains its original shape. When the picture was in the Jaucourt collection, it was engraved by Jean Augustin Pâtour, who reversed and altered the composition to a rectangular format and added over the fireplace the motif of a drawing of a peasant's head in profile.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower right, beside fireplace): DVCK
Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt, Paris (until d. 1779; as "Le Petit Manteur," by Durc); [D. A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam, in 1932; as "De waarzegster," by Johan le Ducq]; R. H. Ward, London (until 1934; sale, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, May 15–17, 1934, no. 119, as "Bohémienne disant la bonne aventure à une jeune fille assise dans un intérieur où l'on voit encore un officier," by J. Duck); [Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, 1934; sold to Lundström]; Erna Lundström, Malmo, Sweden (1934–69; sale, Arne Bruun Rasmussen, Copenhagen, May 7–21, 1969, no. 483); [Brian Koetser, London, in 1970; sold to Feigen]; [Richard L. Feigen, New York, until 1971; sold to Levy]; Dr. and Mrs. Richard W. Levy, New Orleans (1971)
Amsterdam. D. A. Hoogendijk. "Zeldzame Meesters uit de 17de eeuw," June 15–July 15, 1932, no. 27 (as "De Waarzegster [the Fortune-teller]," by Johan le Ducq).

Lund, Sweden. Skånska Konstmuseum. "Gamla Holländare I Skånska Hem," November 15–December 6, 1953, no. 18 (as "Hos Spåkvinnan," lent by E. Lundström, Malmö).

London. Brian Koetser Gallery. "Exhibition of Paintings by Old Masters," October 14–December 1970, no. 2 (as "An Interior," by Duck).

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.

Sylvie Béguin. "Pieter Codde et Jacob Duck." Oud-Holland 67 (1952), pp. 114–115 n. 18, as "La Bohémienne disant la bonne avonture" [sic]; compares it with paintings by Duck dating from about 1630–35.

Gamla Holländare I Skånska Hem. Exh. cat., Skånska Konstmuseum. Lund, 1953, p. 18, no. 18, gives the apparently mistaken information that E. Lundström bought the painting on November 18, 1933, from the Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna.

John Walsh Jr. Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Levy. June 6, 1971, states, "the old woman seems to be a gypsy palm-reader (that doesn't rule out her being a procuress, too!)".

John Walsh Jr. "New Dutch Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 99 (May 1974), pp. 344, 346, 349 n. 11, fig. 8, calls it "Couple with a Gypsy Woman" and dates it to the early 1630s; discusses the subject, noting "the old gypsy woman seems to be telling the girl's fortune . . . although she may be a procuress," and interpreting the fireplace as a reference to love; compares it to a drawing of a gypsy woman by Duck in the Mussen für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Lübeck.

Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 187, fig. 265, questions the identification of the old woman as a procuress, suggesting instead that she is a gypsy and stating, "the gentleman client would hardly look so bored if the transaction were of a prurient sort".

Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide. "Dutch Tobacco Boxes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue." Metropolitan Museum Journal 23 (1988), pp. 201, 207 n. 7, figs. 2–3 (overall and detail), suggests that the open tobacco box, clay pipe, and folded paper containing tobacco on the floor to the lower right may be symbolic since tobacco was considered an aphrodisiac.

Nanette Salomon. Jacob Duck and the Gentrification of Dutch Genre Painting. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1998, pp. 128–29, 147, no. 27, fig. 118, colorpl. VII , as "Gypsy Fortune Teller (The Procuress)"; calls it Duck's earliest treatment of a gypsy subject, and considers it close to his bordello scenes of the early 1630s in which the "contrast of physiognomic types is strongly reminiscent of the Utrecht Caravaggisti"; relates it to the Lübeck drawing [see Ref. Walsh 1974] and the engraving by Patour [see Notes].

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. x, 182–84, no. 41, colorpl. 41, dates it about 1632–33.

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