This witje as De Wit's "white," or grisaille, paintings were known, is in his style but falls well below his level of quality. His own imitations of stucco and stone reliefs are very well modeled, with crisp, elegant outlines and a handling of light and shadow that skillfully achieves the illusion of actual sculpture. The soft, swelling forms and the anatomy of rambunctious infants were areas in which De Wit excelled. By comparison, the many shortcomings in this ensemble of crudely formed figures could be employed to emphasize the virtues not only of De Wit's work in this vein but also that of his better imitators. The latter include Quirijn van Briemen (1693–1774), Marten Jozef Geeraerts (1707–1791), Jan Stalker (1724–1785), and Dirk van der Aa (1731–1803).
The composition is based on a marble bas-relief of 1626 by François Duquesnoy (1597–1643) in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome. Many casts, sculpted copies, and pictorial records of the original circulated in European studios. Later Leiden painters, such as Willem van Mieris (1662–1747), repeated the motif well into the eighteenth century. In Dutch pictures, a mask symbolizes either deception or Painting (Pictura), who triumphs over Sculpture in creating the illusion of reality. The motif suits this trompe-l'oeil painting of a relief, which was probably intended as an overdoor or similar decoration, obviously with a window to the left.
De Wit painted numerous overdoors and friezes featuring putti. An autograph version of The Met’s composition is not known, although one may have been made. It should be stressed, however, that the attribution "Style of Jacob de Wit" is used in a broad sense. The painting does appear to be Dutch, and to date from the eighteenth century. French and other artists also imitated Duquesnoy's relief during the same period. In the original, and in nearly every imitation, the putto in the right foreground is seen from the back, not in profile.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Inscribed (lower left): de Wit
[Georges Hoentschel, Paris, until 1906; sold to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1906)
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.
André Pératé and Gaston Brière. Collections Georges Hoentschel. Vol. 3, XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1908, p. 23, pl. XCIX, as "Jeux d'enfants" by Jacob de Wit; date it about 1742–43; suggest that it is a sketch for a larger decoration.
Nicole Hoentschel et al. Georges Hoentschel. Saint-Rémy-en-l'Eau, 1999, ill. pp. 195, 198 (gallery installations), reproduces photographs of it hanging in Hoentschel's gallery on Boulevard Flandrin.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 852, 960–62, no. 221, colorpl. 221, states that it is in De Wit's style "but falls well below his level of quality"; notes that it "does appear to be Dutch, and to date from the eighteenth century".
Old Master Paintings: Part II. Christie's, New York. April 14, 2016, unpaginated, under no. 271.
Artist: Jacob de Wit (Dutch, Amsterdam 1695–1754 Amsterdam)Date: early 18th centuryMedium: Red chalk. Inlaid into heavy paper mount with brown and gold framing lines.Accession: 1971.513.36On view in:Not on view
Artist: Jacob de Wit (Dutch, Amsterdam 1695–1754 Amsterdam)Date: early 18th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over traces of red chalk. Quadruple framing line in pen and black ink.Accession: 69.296On view in:Not on view