A hitherto unrecorded and unpublished painting by Cesar van Everdingen, A Girl Holding a Balance of Plums, was recently sold at Sotheby’s for a tidy sum. Artdaily.com has it that the work was “subject of considerable bidding battle this evening. It saw interest from six potential buyers who competed strongly and whose determined bids took the price to 1,161,250 GBP, which was 16 times the pre-sale estimate of 50,000-70,000 GBP.” Luckily, the painting can be inspected with the zoom feature on Sotheby’s website accompanied by valuable background information.
To modern sensibility, bred on the precept that only the blunt and the rough can possibly signal sincerity, Cesar Van Everdingen’s elegant paint handling and sometimes aloof subject matter does not always excite non-specialists. And yet, his superlative technique and enviable sense of pictorial synthesis was held in high esteem in Vermeer’s time, higher than Vermeer’s. But what does Van Everdingen have to do with Vermeer?
Critics have long pointed to Van Everdingen’s hand for the large-scale, idiosyncratic Cupid that appears in three works by Vermeer, its boldest appearance being in the Lady Standing at the Virginal (it also starred in the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window but was later painted out by artist himself). However, Vermeer’s interest in Van Everdingen may have gone beyond citing his Cupid as a convenient iconographical prop. Walter Liedtke, in his recent complete catalogue of Vermeer, points out a stylistic kinship between the extraordinarily economical treatment of the head of the mistress in the Frick and Van Everdingen’s classicist Still-Life with a Bust of Venus in the Mauritshuis.
To be sure, Van Everdingen’s A Girl Holding a Balance of Plums is a big brash picture. At first glance it is about as unVermeer-like as you can get. Yet her outrageous hat which projects a suggestive shadow just over her eyes and her seductively parted lips may not be lost on those who know Vermeer’s Girl with a Flute. Dutch painters produced countless numbers of such works who, like everyone in the Netherlands, were intoxicated by exotic whares that swelled Dutch ports (Van Everdingen’s hat is from Brazil where Vermeer’s is obviously of Oriental extraction). If one wishes to push the case beyond the literal, the challenging rendering of the hat’s geometrical design could have stirred Vermeer attention, fascinated by the curious perspective of the decorative stripes on his own oriental hat.
Since art-history detective work is neither one of my talents nor ambitions, I gladly leave further comparison to those more qualified.