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Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II, Dutch, 1628-1697

Study of a Seated Woman, c. 1665-70 

With bro­ken ink out­lines, spa­cious hatch­ing, and broad strokes of dilut­ed ink, Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens deft­ly cap­tured the for­mi­da­ble appear­ance of this older woman. Huy­gens worked as a court offi­cial for Stad­hold­er-King William III (1650-1702), but had trained in drafts­man­ship with his father from an early age. In adult­hood, he attend­ed an infor­mal draw­ing acad­e­my to sketch from live mod­els with other ama­teurs, such as lawyer and dilet­tante Jan de Bisschop. 

This draw­ing was once attrib­uted to De Biss­chop. The style and sub­ject of the work, how­ev­er, point to Huy­gen­s’s author­ship. Based on other sheets by the artist, the sit­ter here might be Catha­ri­na Suerius, a cousin of Huy­gen­s’s moth­er, who raised him after his moth­er’s early death.

Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II was not a pro­fes­sion­al artist, but rather one of the most high­ly placed mem­bers of the court of the Stad­hold­er-King William III (1650 – 1702), serv­ing as his sec­re­tary, just as his father Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens I (1596 – 1687) served as sec­re­tary for the Princes of Orange before him.1

His father had all of his chil­dren trained in drafts­man­ship from a young age and impart­ed much of his pas­sion for art to them, though none con­tin­ued to draw through­out life quite as avid­ly as Con­stan­ti­jn the Younger. He fre­quent­ly man­aged to achieve bril­liant effects in his pen and wash draw­ings, and is espe­cial­ly known today for the many land­scape draw­ings he made while trav­el­ing. Con­stan­ti­jn remained close to his broth­er Chris­ti­aan Huy­gens (1629 – 1695), the famous sci­en­tist and inven­tor of the pen­du­lum clock, with whom he fre­quent­ly dis­cussed mat­ters of art and col­lect­ing.2

He was also good friends with the promi­nent lawyer and fel­low dilet­tante Jan de Biss­chop (1628 – 1671), with whom his draw­ings have often been con­fused.3

Such a misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion was indeed the case with the present sheet, which bears De Biss­chop’s name in the lower right cor­ner, prob­a­bly added by a col­lec­tor or deal­er at some point in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry. The style of drafts­man­ship, how­ev­er, is clear­ly that of Huy­gens.4 Sim­i­lar fig­ures can be found in Huy­gen­s’s draw­ing in the Groninger Muse­um show­ing two women with bas­kets prepar­ing or peel­ing veg­eta­bles Fig. 58.1.5

Constantijn Huygens II, Two Seated Women at Work
Fig. 58.1

Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II, Two Seat­ed Women at Work, 1668. Pen and brush in brown ink, 176 × 270 mm. Gronin­gen, Groninger Muse­um, inv. no. 1931.0138.

Anoth­er in the Rijksmu­se­um depicts a sim­i­lar­ly seat­ed old woman in pro­file, whose facial char­ac­ter­is­tics and seem­ing­ly gruff demeanor even sug­gest the same sit­ter as here Fig. 58.2.6

Constantijn Huygens II, Old Woman in Profile
Fig. 58.2

Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II, Old Woman in Pro­file, c. 1638 – 97. Pen and brush in brown ink, over sketch in graphite or black chalk, 150 × 111 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-t-1989-127.

She has com­pa­ra­bly angu­lar fea­tures and a long nose, and wears a sim­i­lar col­lar with long points draped over her chest. Huy­gens tend­ed to use broad, loose hatch­ing in places, and out­lined his fig­ures with thin and some­times bro­ken pen lines, as seen in both of these draw­ings. Huy­gen­s’s relaxed and broad han­dling of the brush for the wash addi­tions also sets his works apart from those of De Biss­chop. It was not until Jan van Gelder pub­lished his ground­break­ing arti­cle in 1978 that some of these genre sub­jects were con­vinc­ing­ly iden­ti­fied as the work of Huy­gens on the basis of style, inscrip­tions, and his supe­ri­or pow­ers of obser­va­tion,” includ­ing the afore­men­tioned sheet in the Groninger Muse­um.7

Van Gelder also point­ed to sim­i­lar stud­ies of women in pro­file or seen from behind in col­lec­tions in Rot­ter­dam and Brus­sels.8

Huy­gens was fre­quent­ly in the habit of writ­ing the exact date on his draw­ings, which he did in his char­ac­ter­is­tic and eas­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able hand, and the sheets in Brus­sels and Gronin­gen both bear dates of 1666 and 1668 respec­tive­ly. A date around these years seems rea­son­able for the present work as well, espe­cial­ly since none of his sim­i­lar draw­ings of women have been dated out­side of this range, though he did make fig­ure stud­ies spo­rad­i­cal­ly through­out his life.

The long-stand­ing con­fu­sion between draw­ings by Huy­gens and De Biss­chop arose not only from their close artis­tic rela­tion­ship, but also because Huygens’s draw­ings were near­ly unknown to early col­lec­tors. His name rarely fea­tures in eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry sales cat­a­logues, and many of the above­men­tioned works were unwit­ting­ly grouped togeth­er with De Biss­chop’s draw­ings in early sales.9

It is quite pos­si­ble that the present sheet was once part of the same group of around 100 draw­ings thought to be by De Biss­chop that appeared in the sale of the col­lec­tion of Samuel van Huls in 1736, in which one lot is described as two seat­ed women” (prob­a­bly the Gronin­gen sheet, now given to Huy­gens), and five oth­ers.” 10

The Rijksmu­se­um’s Old Woman in Pro­file like­wise came from a mixed group of De Biss­chop’s and Huy­gen­s’s draw­ings sold as one lot in the early 1840s.11

Huy­gen­s’s volu­mi­nous diary is one of the most exten­sive to sur­vive from his era, and it has helped great­ly in clar­i­fy­ing the many land­scape draw­ings he made on his trav­els that com­pose most of his oeu­vre.12

His cor­pus of genre scenes and fig­ure stud­ies is much small­er by com­par­i­son and remains dif­fi­cult to elu­ci­date, espe­cial­ly for this peri­od in the late 1660s when he stayed clos­er to home. We know from let­ters that he and Jan de Biss­chop, along with a few other ama­teurs, would reg­u­lar­ly draw from live mod­els as part of an infor­mal draw­ing acad­e­my around this time.13

The Peck draw­ing may have eas­i­ly result­ed from one of their ses­sions. It is more tempt­ing, how­ev­er, to con­sid­er that this strik­ing woman, who exudes a great deal of per­son­al­i­ty despite her volu­mi­nous cov­er­ings, stemmed from Huy­gen­s’s famil­ial sur­round­ings. He was cer­tain­ly in the habit of depict­ing friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers, as attest­ed by his 1669 draw­ing of his broth­er Lodewijk casu­al­ly play­ing cards.14

In this light, Mar­i­jn Schapel­houman’s sug­ges­tion that the Old Woman in Pro­file in the Rijksmu­se­um might depict Catha­ri­na Suerius, or Zuerius (c. 1590/1600 – 1680), has much to rec­om­mend it and might be applic­a­ble to the present draw­ing as well.15

She was the cousin of Huy­gen­s’s moth­er, Susan­na van Baer­le (1599 – 1637), who died when Con­stan­ti­jn and his sib­lings were still quite young. Catha­ri­na stepped in to raise the chil­dren and remained a part of the house­hold. Anoth­er draw­ing that pos­si­bly depicts her, made in the 1660s by Jan de Biss­chop, is inscribed by a con­tem­po­rary hand on the verso describ­ing the scene as Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens the Younger at Hofwi­jck (the fam­i­ly’s coun­try estate) with his moeij—an anti­quat­ed term mean­ing aunt or cousin Fig. 58.3.16

Jan de Bisschop, Constantijn Huygens II in the Garden at Hofwijck
Fig. 58.3

Jan de Biss­chop, Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II in the Gar­den at Hofwi­jck, c. 1648 – 71. Pen in brown ink, brush in brown and gray ink, 99 × 150 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T-1899-A-4263.

This term might eas­i­ly have been applied to Catha­ri­na given her posi­tion in the house­hold. We have no cer­tain images of her, but it is nev­er­the­less entic­ing to con­sid­er that Con­stan­ti­jn later in life would be com­pelled to make such inci­sive images of this woman who raised him from the age of nine. Our only tid­bit of knowl­edge of her per­son­al­i­ty comes from Con­stan­ti­jn’s father, who appar­ent­ly con­sid­ered her some­thing of a nag (zeur—per­haps a play on her name?) and was appar­ent­ly annoyed by her opin­ion that he should remar­ry, which he never did.17

It is cer­tain­ly an impres­sion that seems com­pat­i­ble with the image of the impos­ing woman in front of us. What­ev­er the case, and whether or not she was a mem­ber of Huy­gen­s’s fam­i­ly, the for­mi­da­ble fig­ure set forth on this pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished sheet is a wel­come addi­tion to the small body of inti­mate fig­ure stud­ies by an artist who is most­ly known for his landscapes.

End Notes

  1. For the life and career of Con­stan­ti­jn Huy­gens II, see Dekker 2013. For his artis­tic activ­i­ties, see espe­cial­ly Ams­ter­dam & Ghent 1982 – 83; as well as Dekker 2013, 67 – 87; and Van Gelder 1978.

  2. Keesing 1993.

  3. The con­fu­sion of his oeu­vre with De Biss­chop’s is the pri­ma­ry sub­ject of Van Gelder 1978, fol­low­ing up on ini­tial remarks made in Van Gelder 1971, 212, note 49. For the rela­tion­ship between the two artists, see also Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 16 – 17; and Keesing 1993. One of the strongest state­ments about their friend­ship is found in De Biss­chop’s ded­i­ca­tion of the first vol­ume of his Icones in 1668 to Huy­gens; for which see Van Gelder & Jost 1985, vol. 1, 89 – 90 (for the Eng­lish trans­la­tion by D. Freed­berg), and vol. 2, 1 – 4 (for the orig­i­nal Latin and Dutch texts).

  4. My thanks to Mar­i­jn Schapel­houman for con­firm­ing this attri­bu­tion based on a dig­i­tal image (email cor­re­spon­dence, 26 March 2021).

  5. Bolten 1967, 51, 140, no. 11 (as a draw­ing by Jan de Bisschop).

  6. M. Schapel­houman in Ams­ter­dam 1989, 90 – 91, no. 48.

  7. Van Gelder 1978.

  8. Rot­ter­dam, Muse­um Boi­j­mans Van Beunin­gen, inv. no. CdB1 (Van Gelder 1978, fig. 16); and Brus­sels, Konin­klijke Musea voor Schone Kun­sten van Bel­gië, inv. no. De Grez 1750 (Van Gelder 1978, fig. 19).

  9. See Van Gelder 1978 for a num­ber of exam­ples. For the 1823 auc­tion cat­a­logue of the col­lec­tions of J. Stin­stra et al. that cor­rect­ly lists a large group of land­scape draw­ings under Huy­gen­s’s name, see Ams­ter­dam & Ghent 1982 – 83, 197 – 98 (Appen­dix B).

  10. See Bolten 1967, 51, under no. 11, note 1.

  11. Ams­ter­dam 1989, 90 – 91, no. 48, with the full prove­nance given in idem, 76, under no. 31.

  12. For the diary, see Dekker 2015; and for the inter­re­la­tion­ships with his land­scape draw­ings, see Ams­ter­dam & Ghent 1982 – 83.

  13. Van Gelder 1971, 211; and Jelle­ma & Plomp 1992, 64 – 65.

  14. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T-1989-126; see Schapel­houman in Ams­ter­dam 1989, 89 – 90, no. 47.

  15. M. Schapel­houman in Ams­ter­dam 1989, 90 – 91, no. 48.

  16. The inscrip­tion on the verso reads: d Heer van Zee­len [Huy­gen­s’s title, the Lord of Zeel­hem] op Hofwi­jck en zijn moeij. For this draw­ing, see Van Gelder 1957, 40, no. 3; and New York, Boston & Chica­go 1972 – 73, 20 – 21, no. 10; both sug­gest­ing that the older woman might be one of Huy­gen­s’s actu­al aunts, Geertruyd Huy­gens-Dou­blet (1599 – 1680). For the sug­ges­tion that she is Catha­ri­na Suerius, see Ams­ter­dam & Ghent 1982 – 83, 15; and Van Strien & Van der Leer 2002, 96. Her iden­ti­ty in this draw­ing would of course be impos­si­ble to con­firm against a like­ness since her face is cov­ered with a hood, but it is worth not­ing that an extant por­trait of Geertruyd from 1668 (see Van Gelder 1957, 10 – 11, no. 2, pl. 8) shows a woman with broad­er and less angu­lar fea­tures than those in the present sheet and the afore­men­tioned Old Woman in Pro­file in the Rijksmu­se­um. Those fea­tures do, how­ev­er, bet­ter match anoth­er draw­ing by Huy­gens in the Rijksmu­se­um, Old Woman Asleep (inv. no. RP-T-1989-128); for which see Ams­ter­dam 1989, 90 – 91, no. 49.

  17. L. van der Vinde in Voor­burg 2010, 47.