Although entirely typical of Van den Eeckhout in the early 1650s, this painting was given to The Met as a work by the Amsterdam genre painter Barent Graat (1628–1709), and was earlier considered to be by Pieter de Hooch. Both artists set similar figures on terraces, Graat as early as 1652, and De Hooch not until the 1660s. Van den Eeckhout has long been a familiar figure as a Rembrandtesque history painter (see Isaac Blessing Jacob
), but his important contribution to scenes of modern society was generally overlooked until the 1960s. Valentiner must have known the artist's A Party on a Terrace
of 1652 (Worcester Art Museum) or a similar work when he suggested in 1930 (unpublished opinion in departmental files) that the New York picture was actually by Van den Eeckhout.
The painting shows five stylish young people socializing on the garden terrace of an impressive country house, to judge from the scale of the columns and the extent of the trees. A servant stands to the left, looking in the direction of the couple singing from a songbook (the woman keeps time with her hand). Another songbook lies open on the table. The man in the background gestures to his heart, to which his lovely companion seems to be respond somewhat stiffly(she holds a fan, which can indicate a cool reception). Van den Eeckhout made just such an encounter the main motif of the painting in Worcester, where couples in the background appear to be further along in their courtships. The main figure here probably feels that he has much to offer a young woman, given his especially chic attire and the fashionable attribute of a greyhound (which implies hunting). The empty chair to the right, although quite an elegant piece of furniture, offers little hope of pleasure to a dandy cast in the role of fifth wheel. The young man's body language is both natural and symbolic, the pose of someone spending too much time watching other people enjoy themselves and of figures in art (going back at least to Dürer's famous engraving of the subject) that stand for melancholia.
It has often been observed that the pictures of buitenpartijen
(alfresco parties) and gezelschapjes
(Merry Companies) painted by Van den Eeckhout, Jacob van Loo (1614–1670), and other Dutch artists in the 1650s and 1660s brought an earlier type of composition up-to-date, namely, the scenes of wining, dining, making music, and musing about making love that were often set on palatial terraces and on the grounds of grand estates by such painters as David Vinckboons, Esaias van de Velde (1587–1630), and Willem Buytewech (1591/92–1624). Like Gerard ter Borch, if not so consistently, Van den Eeckhout brought to this genre an eye for how people hold themselves and behave in social situations. He also modernized his Rembrandtesque style, so that the play of light and shadow not only brings out the key protagonists but also suggests mood and other qualities, in this case a physical intimacy similar to that found in his contemporaneous pictures of courtship set indoors (in particular, the Musical Company
of 1653 in the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and the Interior with a Singing Couple and a Listener
of 1655, in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen). The composition is also very much of the 1650s, with its triangular grouping of figures, vertical elements, and nearly parallel arms and legs. Unfortunately, the appeal of the picture has been much diminished by darkening with age and abrasion.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]