Willem van Mieris

Portrait of a painter in an alcove

Oil on panel: 7(h) x 5.2(w) in /

17.8(h) x 13.3(w) cm

Signed and dated centre right: W. van Mieris. Fect. 1683

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BS 327



1662 – Leiden – 1747


Portrait of a painter in an alcove


Signed and dated centre right: W. van Mieris . Fect. 1683

Oil on panel: 7 x 5 ¼ in / 17.8 x 13.2 cm

Frame size: 11 ¾ x 9 ¾ in / 29.8 x 24.8 cm



Jonkheer Menno Baron van Coehoorn (d.1800);

his estate sale, Philippus Schley, Amsterdam, 19th October 1801, lot 41 (as Frans van Mieris the Elder; 305 florins to Coclers);

Louis-Bernard Coclers

The Marquise de Ganay

By descent in the Lebaudy family since the late nineteenth century



C Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts, vol. X, Stuttgart/Paris 1928 (repr. in facsimile, Teaneck, NJ, 1976), p.34, no.126 (as Frans van Mieris the Elder)



Willem van Mieris studied with his father, the celebrated Leiden fijnschilder Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681). He was a highly accomplished artist by the time of his father’s death, collaborating on a number of works with Frans. His first dated work is of 1682. Portrait of a painter in an alcove was made in 1683, the year that Willem entered the Leiden painters’ guild.


This painting is influenced by the many self-portraits by Frans van Mieris, though the features are broader and ruddier than those of Frans. Of around 121 known works by Frans van Mieris, his face appears in thirty-one. Some are straightforward portraits with the tools of his profession, such as the Self-portrait of the artist holding a small painting, 1677, which was commissioned by Cosimo III de’ Medici for the famous collection of artists’ self-portraits in the Uffizi[1]. Many combine Frans’s features with genre elements, such as the Soldier, 1667, formerly in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (destroyed in World War II)[2].


Willem van Mieris’s Portrait of a painter in an alcove continues this genre theme, in which a painter is seen as a genial bohemian, fond of drinking and smoking. (This was all too true in his father’s case). The canvas and easel are relegated to the shadowy background, although the otherwise empty canvas proudly bears Willem’s signature. Willem lavishes his mastery of textures on the squat, wide-mouthed berkemeier glass and the strands of tobacco teased out on a crumpled letter – perhaps a commission from a patron?


The arched window embrasure derives ultimately from the work of the Leiden fijnschilder Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), who taught Frans van Mieris. Although this is a young man’s painting – Willem was twenty-one when he made it – it is steeped in tradition and complex influences, as Willem stakes his claim to a distinguished European artistic lineage. The pose of the painter, with one arm leaning on the window frame, harks back to the poses of Titian’s noblemen in such portraits as Gerolamo Barbarigo, c.1510 (National Gallery, London). Designed to give a trompe l’oeil sense of immediacy, this pose is often used by Frans. The genre element is enhanced by the painter’s costume, which is an archaic, fantasy assemblage reminiscent of a stock figure in a comedy. The slashed doublet has its origin in the sixteenth century, while the flat lace collar dates from the 1640s. The elaborate ribboned sleeves, which show the fine shirt beneath, recall the clothes of Caravaggist bravi from the early seventeenth century, as does the floppy hat with its jaunty feather. Frans paints similar clothes in his various ‘self-portrait’ guises. The Soldier of 1667 wears identical sleeves to Willem’s painter; this costume may well have been part of the family’s studio props.


Portrait of a painter in an alcove reveals that Willem van Mieris was a worthy successor to his father’s skill as a fijnschilder. He paints with a slightly broader, creamier touch than Frans, varying his tone from the extreme delicacy of the painter’s face and surprisingly elegant hands, where brushstrokes can barely be discerned, to the staccato touches that describe the woollen knots of the vivid Oriental carpet. Willem is a master of textures, from the light playing on the ostrich feather in the painter’s hat to the slick reflections of the berkemeier glass. The frieze of putti on the stone window frame gives a nod to the classical taste that was becoming popular in Holland at the end of the seventeenth century and which would become much more marked in Willem’s painting in the eighteenth. Portrait of a painter amply fulfils the functions of the fijnschilder genre by being a small, jewel-like object in which the command of trompe l’oeil and intense realism astonishes and delights.


This painting can be compared to a work of 1688 by Willem van Mieris, A man seated holding a berkemeier and a pipe, a river landscape beyond (with Richard Green in 2004; private collection)[3]. The smoker wears a similar feathered hat, collar and slashed doublet and holds an identical berkemeier.



Note on the provenance


Willem van Mieris was almost as successful as his father, who could command 1,000 guilders for a painting[4]. Willem worked for highly prestigious patrons, including the Leiden cloth magnate Pieter de la Court van der Voort (1664-1739); the paintings of both Frans and Willem were highly sought-after throughout the eighteenth century. Portrait of an artist has passed through a number of important collections. In the late eighteenth century, then believed to be a work by Frans van Mieris, it was owned by Jonkheer Menno Baron van Coehoorn (d.1800), a magistrate in The Hague and the grandson of the famous soldier and military engineer Menno Baron van Coehoorn (1641-1704). 3,500 prints and ninety-one paintings were included in the younger Menno’s estate sale in 1801. They included a stable scene by Wouwermans, today in the Rijksmuseum, as well as an Adriaen van Ostade peasant scene and a shore scene by Willem van der Velde the Younger, later acquired by the Prince Regent and still in the British Royal Collection.


Portrait of an artist has descended in the Lebaudy family since the late nineteenth century. Originally from Normandy, the family fortunes were founded on the development of the process to extract sugar from sugar beet in the early nineteenth century. The Lebaudys diversified into banking and entered politics, becoming major investors in the 1870s in conjunction with financiers such as Louis Cahen d’Anvers and the Comte de Camondo. Gustave Lebaudy (1827-1889) was a Deputé of the Seine-et-Oise and a stalwart of the Assemblée Nationale from 1876 to 1885. His brother, the financier Jules Lebaudy (1828-1892) owned the famous Théâtre du Vaudeville in Paris.





1662 – Leiden – 1747


Willem van Mieris was born in Leiden, the fourth son of the painter Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635-1681). Willem studied with his father, an internationally renowned and highly-paid artist who also taught Willem’s eldest brother Jan. Willem’s first dated work is of 1682. The following year he entered the Leiden guild, holding the post of hoofdman in 1697, 1698, 1704 and 1708, and that of dean in 1699. In 1694, with fellow artists Jacob Toorenvliet and Karel de Moor, Willem founded a drawing academy in Leiden, which he directed until 1736. In the 1730s van Mieris’s sight began to fail and his output of paintings declined. He died in Leiden in 1747.


Van Mieris painted genre, religious, historical and mythological subjects, usually on a small scale and with an attention to detail and smooth, polished execution which gives almost an ‘enamelled’ effect. From the beginning of the eighteenth century he specialised particularly in shops and kitchens seen through arched windows (a framing device invented in the 1640s in the work of Gerrit Dou). When the demand for genre scenes declined towards the end of van Mieris’s career, he turned more to elegant small-scale portraits. Mieris also made four clay models for bas-reliefs intended for garden vases, depicting the Four Seasons (Windsor Castle).


Willem van Mieris’s painting was much sought after in his own lifetime. Among his prominent patrons were the wealthy Leiden cloth magnate Pieter de la Court van der Voort (1664-1739) and his nephew Cornelis Backer (1693-1775). For van der Voort, Mieris made many new compositions, as well as copies of his father’s work and that of other Leiden fijnschilders. During his lifetime, his work was acquired by Christoph August von Wackerbarth for Augustus the Strong of Saxony. Van Mieris’s principal pupils were his son Frans van Mieris the Younger (1689-1763) and Hieronymous van der Mij (1678-1761).


The work of Willem van Mieris is represented in the Mauritshuis, The Hague; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; the Wallace Collection, London and the Louvre, Paris.



[1] See Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) The Elder, Doornspijk 1981, vol. I, p.125; vol. II, pl.111.

[2] Naumann, op. cit., vol. I, p.127; vol. II, pl.68.

[3] Naumann ibid., vol. II, p.88, under no.72; p.104, under no.93; fig. C72 I.

[4] Naumann vol. I, p.24.

Old MasterWillem van Mieris