Pieter Hermansz. Verelst
(Dordrecht? c. 1618 – c. 1678)
A Study of a young Boy's Head
on panel – 7 1/8 x 5 1/8 in, (18.1 x 13 cm)
Signed with initials and dated, lower left: P. V. 1643
- The Lawson family, Brough Hall, Yorkshire, by the late eighteenth centuryBy descent to the previous owner, 2013
Pieter Verelst, a painter from Dordrecht, settled in The Hague in 1643. During the course of his career, he tried his hand at a variety of genres, including portraits, peasant scenes and still lifes. After moving to The Hague, the influence of Rembrandt becomes apparent in his work, which is the reason why he is included in Sumowski’s Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schuler[i]. There is no evidence that he had direct contact with the master, but like many painters of his generation, he probably assimilated aspects of Rembrandt’s style through the work of other painters who had trained in his studio. Verelst’s later portraits reflect the influence of fashionable Hague portraitists like Adriaen Hanneman and Jan Mytens.
This sensitive portrayal of a young boy was painted in 1643, the year in which Pieter Verelst moved to The Hague. The youngster, who looks about seven or eight years old, is seen in three-quarter profile, his gaze fixed on something “off-stage”. His dark clothing, relieved only by a simple white collar, focuses all attention on the child’s face: the delicate complexion, brown eyes, slightly upturned nose and the soft curls that frame his face. His features are modelled in soft shadow, the fall of light creating highlights on his forehead, left cheek and bridge of the nose.
This painting seems to be a facial study, or tronie, rather than a portrait. The term tronie was used in the seventeenth century to describe paintings that depict heads of different types of people, such as an old man, an attractive young woman, a soldier, or an oriental. Tronies occur frequently in the work of Rembrandt’s pupils and followers. Unlike portraits, which were commissioned works, they were produced for the open market. Although most were taken from live models, including frequently members of the artist’s close circle of family or friends, the identity of the sitter was of secondary importance. In this case, the tender observation of the child’s features and the intimacy of scale suggest that the picture was painted for personal reasons. However, the boy’s age does not tally with any of the artist’s own sons, the eldest of whom was born in 1641. It is just possible that the same sitter served as a model for a similarly conceived depiction of a curly-headed boy, painted five years later in 1648[ii].
Pieter Hermansz. Verelst was probably born in Dordrecht in or shortly before 1618. He is mentioned as a pupil in the records of the Dordrecht painters’ guild in 1638, but the name of his teacher is not recorded. In 1643, he moved to The Hague, where he joined the local guild in that year. He is described in the guild records as living in the neighbourhood of Jan van Goyen, over de bleyckerye (opposite the bleaching field). In 1656, he was a founding member of the Confrerie Pictura and served on the society’s committee as a warden in 1659-60. Later, he fell heavily into debt and was forced to leave town. In 1671, he turned up in the vicinity of Hulst, near Antwerp, at which time he seems to have abandoned painting altogether and was learning the brewing trade. He trained his three sons, Herman, Simon and Johannes, as painters. All three of them settled in England, where Simon pursued a successful career as a flower painter[iii].
[i] Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schuler, I, Landau-Pfalz, 5 vols., Landau, 1983-1993,
vol. I, pp. 96-12; vol. V (supplement to the 1983 editions), nos. 2162-2170.
[ii] Pieter Verelst, The head of a young boy, signed with initials and dated P.V:1648, oil on panel, 36.5 x 33 cm,
sold at Christie’s, London, 13 December 2000, lot 49.
[iii] Information based on the biography in Edwin Buijsen, et. al., Haagse Schilders in de Gouden Eeuw: Het
Hoogsteder Lexicon van alle schilders werkzaam in Den Haag 1600-1700, The Hague-Zwolle, 1998, p. 355.