DescriptionBALTHASAR VAN DEN BOSSCHE (Flemish, 1681-1715)
Pair of Companion Paintings: Atelier of a Sculptor and Atelier of a Painter (2), circa 1713
Oil on canvas
39 x 46 inches (99.1 x 116.8 cm) each
Both signed in lower left quadrant: B. V. Bosche F. 17[13?] and B. V. Bosche F.
By continuous descent in the family of Juan II Suros, who commissioned the pair from van den Bossche circa 1713.
The Flemish painter Balthasar van den Bossche enjoyed a successful, lucrative and, unfortunately, brief career painting scenes of richly decorated gallery or "atelier" interiors for aristocratic patrons of the early 18th century. In his works, figures in expensive attire stroll through vast high-ceiling rooms, usually with their attendants, pausing to admire a newly finished work on the easel. Often the author of the new painting or sculpture is shown in the process of unveiling the work to his regal visitors, which suggests that they are patrons of the arts, not simply collectors. Sometimes it is not entirely clear whether the magnificent interiors are intended to represent the patrons' own art galleries (their Kunstkamer=Flemish for "painting gallery"), or rather the atelier of the artist himself. The ambiguity is charming, and it certainly would have served to flatter the patrons' own aspirations or vanities as collectors of considerable discernment.
Van den Bossche's kunstkamer paintings continued into the early decades of the 18th century a genre which was invented by earlier Flemish talents--the Franckens and Jan Brueghel I--during the later 16th century, and elaborated upon by David Teniers II during the course of the 17th. While Brueghel's painted galleries were usually allegorical in nature, Teniers painted actual princely collections, notably that of Leopold Wilhelm, younger brother of Emperor Ferdinand II and governor of the Spanish Netherlands for ten years. Teniers carefully represented specific highlights from that famed collection (now comprising the core of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) in his celebrated painting now in the Prado, along with a portrait likeness of Leopold Wilhelm admiring his trove of masterpieces.
In Balthasar van den Bossche's case, his interiors are largely imaginary rather than literal transcription of actual collections or specific buildings. He sought to create the general impression of a noble collection, or a successful artist's workshop. To that end, he tended to repeat a number of favorite motifs from painting to painting, and from client to client, such as the celebrated Farnese Hercules which usually frames a landscape view, and the clutter of gleaming armor in the foreground which is an an obvious homage to David Teniers II's particular skill in rendering still lifes of this type. Interestingly, in the present pair of paintings, van den Bossche's painter bears a strong resemblance to David Teniers II. The sculptor presenting the relief in the pendant painting is also so individualized that it seems highly probable that he, too, is an actual person. Indeed, a number of biographers have remarked that van den Bossche sometimes included portraits of historical artists from earlier periods in his work, in emulation of their enduring legacy.
To date, the oeuvre of van den Bossche has not been carefully studied and, as a result, the identities of the patrons he depicted in his gallery views are not known. For this reason, these two paintings, which have remained in the same family who commissioned them almost 300 years ago, present a unique opportunity to learn something about the artist's clientele.
According to the present owner, these works were commissioned by his forebear Juan II Suros, who is represented in the paintings together with his wife. According to family history, the specific subjects of the paintings are intensely political in nature and can be described as follows:
Atelier of a Painter, with Juan II Suros and his wife Lisette de Bourbon admiring a painting of King Philip V of Spain;
Atelier of a Sculptor, with Juan II Suros admiring a sculpture of the Austrian Pretender, Charles III.
Juan II Suros, a direct descendant of Charlemagne from the Pyrenees in Northern Spain, had served as Spanish Ambassador of Charles II, the last Hapsburg king of Spain, to the Austrian Court of Emperor Leopold I in Vienna. He married Lisette de Bourbon, daughter of Alexander de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse and Admiral de France, who was a much beloved but illegitimate son of Louis XIV and the Marquise de Montespan.
When Charles II died without a direct successor, the Spanish War of Succession began in 1700 between another Charles, the Hapsburg Pretender, who was the second son of the Emperor of Austria, and Philip, the Bourbon Pretender, who was the second grandson of Louis XIV. Ambassador Juan II Suros, who was compromised by both sides (employed by a Hapsburg and married to a Bourbon), regarded his political position as too delicate, and discreetly retired to his Countship of Besalu trying not to make any enemies.
During the War of Spanish Succession the Hapsburg side, buttressed by the support of the Catalans and England, was winning in the person of Charles III. However, the new young emperor of Austria, Joseph I, older brother of Charles III suddenly died of typhoid fever, and left behind no children. Consequently his brother Charles, who had fought so hard to be crowned King of Spain and its colonies. suddenly found himself the new Hapsburg Emperor of Austria.
Ungratefully, Charles III left Spain and abandoned his supporters to their fate at the hands of the new Bourbon king, who was crowned Philip V by default. Eventually to stop the European turmoil, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713. In order to have the treaty accepted, Philip V had to give away Milan and the Low Countries to his old enemy, the new Austrian emperor, Charles; part of Provence and Besancon went to his grandfather, Louis XIV; and to appease England, he had to agree never to colonize north of the Mississippi River in the New World.
Juan II, with diplomatic experience acceptable to both the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, was called out of retirement to become one of the signatories of the Treaty of Utrecht. During the lengthy deliberations, he spent time around the region of Antwerp and commissioned these two paintings from van den Bossche. In them, Suros embedded references to his and his wife's political situation. In the Atelier of a Sculptor, Juan II is shown alone, without his Bourbon wife, admiring a sculpture of the Austrian Pretender to the Spanish throne, Charles III. On the other hand, in the Atelier of a Painter, the couple appears together, admiring a painting of Philip V, the new Bourbon King of Spain. His grandfather makes a cameo appearance in the painting in the lower right corner in an oval portrait.
The present owner reports that for many years his grandfather routinely joked that "Juan II, diplomat that he was, had one painting or the other handing in his dining room. It all depended upon the political tendencies of whomever had been invited to dinner!"
Another version of the present paintings with very near dimensions, although somewhat inferior in execution in some of the details, was recorded in the collection of H. C. Boysen, Berlin in February 1928 (comparative black and white photos courtesy of the RKD,The Hague). Interestingly while the male figures are very similar between the two sets of paintings, the equivalent of "Lisette de Bourbon" in the Berlin painting has entirely different facial features.
Many thanks to Fred G. Meijer, Curator, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, for his generosity in examining these paintings by van den Bossche in photographic form, endorsing the attribution based on photographs, and for his kind assistance in researching comparable works in the RKD photo archive.
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