Gabriël Metsu

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Gabriël Metsu
Man Writing a Letter by Gabriël Metsu.jpg
Man Writing a Letter (1662-1665), Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Born December? 1629
Died buried 24 October 1667
Nationality Dutch
Known for Painting

Gabriël Metsu (1629 – 1667) was a Dutch painter of history paintings, genre works and portraits.


Metsu was the son of the Flemish painter Jacques Metsu (c. 1588-March 1629), who lived most of his days at Leiden, and Jacomijntje Garniers (-1651), his third wife, whom he married in 1625. Jacomijntje, a poor midwife, was the widow of a painter with three children of her own.

In 1648 Metsu was registered among the first members of the painters' guild at Leiden. 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 possibly trained in Utrecht by the catholic painters Nicolaus Knüpfer and Jan Weenix.[1]

An alley on Prinsengracht

Around 1655 Metsu had moved to Amsterdam; he lived in an alley on Prinsengracht, near his relative, the sugar refiner Philips Metsu.[2][3] In 1657 he got into an argument with a neighbor. (It was alleged that Metsu left a brothel at six in the morning.) Gabriel 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 the painter Maria de Grebber. The Speed Art Museum has a portrait of the couple.

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,[4] 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.

The Poultry-Seller, 1662

At least thirteen of paintings show carpets and he probably used the same model.[5] He included several fine examples of minutely depicted floral and cloud band 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.[6] After Metsu died (age 38), his widow left for Enkhuizen, to live with her mother. Isabella died in 1718.

Style and Works[edit]

According to Jacobus Houbraken, Metsu was taught by Gerard Dou, though prior to about 1653 his influence is not apparant.[7] Around 1653-4, Metsu began placing his figures in domestic interiors and specialized in genre scenes on small panels. Old people were among Metsu's favorite thematic borrowings from Dou during his first years in Amsterdam.[8] Metsu often painted young (single) women who either feed pets[9], sold goods at market (fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry, or meat) or were grocery-shopping themselves for these things.[10] 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.[11] The accompanying verse is:

Two paintings of the Hinlopen family[edit]

The Visit to the Nursery (1661), Metropolitan Museum of Art.[12]
Gift by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1917
The Sick Child (Rijksmuseum) (ca 1664) "prompts the thought that Metsu strongly admired Vermeer's work. It also provides us with a hint about what he thought was lacking in it: emotional involvement of the viewer".[13]

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.

Visit to the Nursery[edit]

In 1662 Jan Vos published a poem about this painting.[14] 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. In 1721 Arnold Houbraken recalled the latter painting as the largest and finest work by Metsu he had ever seen.[15] Franits calls it one of his most intriguing images. What makes this painting especially interesting is its provenance.[16] The provenance is well-known, except for between the years 1666 and 1706.[17] In 1680, after the burial of his brother and guardian Jacob J. Hinlopen the paintings were divided in lots and given to his daughters [18] 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.[19] The chimney resembles the one in the "schepenzaal" of former Amsterdam townhall, also painted by Pieter de Hooch.[20] There is a seascape on the wall and Persian carpets on the table and the floor.[21] 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.[22] 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.


  1. ^ Waiboer, A. (2005) The early years of Gabriël Metsu. In: The Burlington Magazine, No. 1223, Vol. CXLVII, p.80-90.
  2. ^ The Frick Collection
  3. ^
  4. ^ Franits, W. (2008) Dutch seventeenth-century Genre Painting. Its stylistic and thematic evolution, p. 182.
  5. ^ Onno Ydema (1991) Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540 - 1700, p. 31, 32. ISBN 90-6011-710-7.
  6. ^ Onno Ydema (1991) Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540 - 1700, p. 123.
  7. ^ Waiboer, p. 11
  8. ^ Waiboer, p. 25, 33.
  9. ^ Waiboer, p. 110.
  10. ^ Gabriel Metzu biography in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718) by Arnold Houbraken, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
  11. ^ The double meaning in genre works in Erotica in vogelperspectief , by E. de Jongh, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
  12. ^ "The Visit to the Nursery by Gabriël Metsu". Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  13. ^ Waiboer, p. 130.
  14. ^ Vos, J. (1662) p. 654.
  15. ^ Houbraken 1718-1721, vol. 3, p. 41.
  16. ^ Franits, W. (2008) Dutch seventeenth-century Genre Painting. Its stylistic and thematic evolution, p. 182.
  17. ^ Judith van Gent, p. 134-135, notes 20, 22. See also note 4 and check provenance. The "extraordinary pretty" painting was sold as no. 2 on 18 May 1706 bringing up 435 guilders; for most people in those days more than a year salary.
  18. ^ RAU 67-59. Familiearchief Huydecoper, on 11/7/1679, 12/8/1679 and 2/22/1680.
  19. ^ Franits, W. (2008) Dutch seventeenth-century Genre Painting. Its stylistic and thematic evolution, p. 183.
  20. ^ Os, H. van (2002) Beeldenstorm in het Paleis op de Dam, p. 28-33.
  21. ^ Liedtke, W. (2007) Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 463.
  22. ^ Onno Ydema (1991) Carpets and their Datings in Netherlandish Paintings, 1540 - 1700, p. 74.


  • Robinson, F.W. (1974) Gabriel Metsu (1629–1667) a Study of His Place in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age.
  • Stone-Ferrier, L. (1989) Gabriel Metsu's Vegetable Market at Amsterdam: seventeenth century Dutch market paintings and horticulture. In: Art Bulletin Jrg. 71 (1989), nr. 3 (September)

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