In the late seventeenth century, the Dutch painter Quiringh van Brekelenkam of Leyden was one of the most highly regarded of the Fijnschilderei (fine painting) artists, genre painters who focussed on everyday subjects. A close attention to detail was the primary characteristic of the School of Leyden. Van Brekelenkam’s scenes of workshops, domestic interiors and commercial premises, marked by a deft realism in the style of Pieter de Hooch, make use of subtle chiaroscuro effects learned from Rembrandt and from Gerrit Dou. He was the latter’s first pupil.
A prolific artist, he produced hundreds of paintings that, in the 1640s and 1650s, echoed his teacher’s style; by the 1660s, however, he seems more inspired by the work of Gabriel Metsu and Gerard Ter Borch. His paintings of workshop interiors follow a single formula: horizontal in format and clearly constructed, their space is well defined and the static composition in a limited palette is lit from the left.
The theme of the tailor’s shop seems to have been his specialty. He painted numerous versions – of the thirteen extant, the best known are to be found in Amsterdam, London, Philadelphia and Bonn. (1) In all of these, the position of the master and his apprentices is always much the same, the only variation being in the presence and activity of the women. In its tonalities of ochre and brown with red highlights, our canvas, dating from about 1655-1660, follows the usual composition, with a woman preparing a meal beside the fireplace.
This fine example of scenes of the everyday life of artisans was chosen for the major exhibition Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from October 11, 2015, to January 18, 2016.
1. Seymour Slive, European Paintings in the Collection of the Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, 1974), p. 89, note 2.
Quiringh van Brekelenkam (about 1620-after 1669), Interior of a Tailor’s Workshop, about 1655-1660, oil on wood, 57.5 x 73.2 cm
MMFA, gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein