Gabriël Metsu (January 1629 – October 1667) was a Dutch painter of history paintings, genre works and portraits.
Metsu was the son of the Flemish painter Jacques Metsu (c.1588-1629), who lived most of his days at Leiden, and Jacomijntje Garniers, his third wife, whom he married in 1625. Jacomijntje was the widow of a painter with three children of her own. Two months after Gabriël’s birth, his father died.
According to Jacobus Houbraken, Metsu was taught by Gerard Dou, though his early works do not lend colour to this assertion. He was influenced by painters of Leiden such as Jan Steen, and later by Frans van Mieris the Elder.
Metsu was registered among the first members of the painters’ corporation at Leiden; and the books of the guild also tell us that he remained a member in 1649. In Leiden, it was alleged that Metsu left a brothel at six in the morning and took a prostitute to the Academy. In 1650 he ceased to subscribe, and works bearing his name and the date of 1653 support the belief that he had moved. Metsu was trained in Utrecht by Jan Baptist Weenix and Nicolaus Knüpfer.
In Amsterdam Metsu lived in an alley on Prinsengracht, where he kept chickens. He got into an argument with a neighbor and moved to a house on the canal side, where a daily vegetable market was held. In 1658 he married Isabella de Wolff, whose father was a potter and mother a painter.
The Speed Art Museum has a portrait of the couple. Pieter de Grebber, a religious painter from Haarlem, was her uncle.
At the onset of the 1660s Metsu turned for inspiration to the art of the “fijnschilders” from his native Leiden. Metsu was responding to the market of Dou’s paintings, who sold his paintings all over for exorbitant prices.
Metsu may have also influenced Pieter de Hooch. Around the year 1661, Metsu won the patronage of the Amsterdam cloth merchant Jan J. Hinlopen and painted his family more than once in a fashionable surrounding.
At least thirteen of paintings show carpets and he probably used the same model. He included several fine examples of minutely depicted floral and cloudband carpets in his works and even a silk Oriental rug, as well as so-called “Lotto” rugs which he for some reason, in contrast to his meticulous rendering of the floral carpets, depicted only in a very sketchy fashion. After Metsu died, his widow left for Enkhuizen, to live with her mother.
Metsu often painted young women who either sold goods at market (fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry, or meat) or were grocery-shopping themselves for these things. Houbraken ends his biography with the comment that he was “of impeccable reputation”, but he may have meant this ironically.
Often, the subject of a Metsu painting was based on a popular emblem from an emblem book. This can give the painting a double meaning, such as in The Poultry seller, 1662, showing an old man offering a rooster to a young girl in a symbolic pose that is based on a lewd engraving by Gillis van Breen (1595–1622), with the same scene.
There is still some confusion about two paintings by Metsu — the Portrait of the family Hinlopen, now in the Gemäldegalerie, which for a few decades was referred to as The Family of burgomaster Gillis Valckenier, and Visit to the Nursery — in the Metropolitan Museum. There is some general resemblance.
The latter belonged to Jan J. Hinlopen. In 1662 Jan Vos published a poem about this painting, belonging to Jan J. Hinlopen. It might depict the Hinlopen family, but as the sitters have not been identified this painting it is more a genre work than a portrait.
Arnold Houbraken, in 1721, recalled the latter painting as the largest and finest work by Metsu he had ever seen. Franits calls it one of his most intriguing images. What makes this painting especially interesting is its provenance. The provenance of this painting is well-known, except for between the years 1666 and 1706. Most of Jan Hinlopen’s collection passed to his daughters. In 1680, after the burial of his brother and guardian Jacob J. Hinlopen his paintings were divided in lots and given to his daughters but none of the paintings or painters is mentioned.
The scene is set in an imaginary room of unrealistically large proportions. The father gestures deferentially while a maid dutifully fetches a chair for this esteemed visitor. The chimney resembles the one in the former Amsterdam townhall, also painted by Pieter de Hooch. There is a seascape on the wall and Persian carpets on the table and the floor. The carpet on the table is divided into compartments, which are partly vermilion red and partly purple red, and shield-shaped. The dark blue color of the borders on the carpet are relatively unusual.The dog in the painting could be a Bolognese. Hung in the reception room of Hinlopen’s home, the Visit to the Nursery thus alluded to his powerful role in local politics.
Remarkable is that both paintings seem to be related to Jan’s daughter Sara Hinlopen, as he apparently commissioned ‘The Visit to the Nursery’ on the occasion of her birth, while she is also the focal point of the Portrait of the family Hinlopen.
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