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Work Family portrait
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
© 2001 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
One of the artist's masterpieces from his mature period, this painting is a work of perfect clarity. The carnations on the floor are a symbol of filial and familial love.
Archaic composition and subtle colors
This portrait is of an unidentified family in a comfortable bourgeois home. There are two couples, five little girls, and a young man. It was long believed that this was the artist's family, but archival records suggest that this is not the case, because Adriaen van Ostade had only one child, a daughter. The juxtaposition of the various figures in a stiff, formal line was rather old-fashioned even when the portrait was painted. Van Ostade borrowed the style of composition developed some twenty years previously by artists such as Nicolaes Elias and Pieter Jacobsz. Codde. However, the apparent formalityof the composition does not entirely mask the lightness and subtlety of van Ostade's art. Rather than contrasting the figures with a pale background in a highly decorative manner, as his predecessors did, he integrates them perfectly into the setting, creating a delicate, harmonious radiance that bathes each figure and object in light. The perfect mastery of tones and colors creates a warm, gentle atmosphere for the scene, prefiguring the superb refinement of the interiors of an artist like Gerard ter Borch.
A tranquil family scene
This portrait takes us into a peaceful bourgeois home. The room is decorated in a sober yet rich style typical of seventeenth-century Dutch interiors. The style is late Renaissance, with paintings, faience ware, and a sculpted chimney breast with small columns of red marble. These objects are both an indication of the family's wealth and symbols of their happiness. The painting contains many allusions to harmonious family life: the cherubs carved on the chimney breast represent the happiness of the couple, and the carnations and roses scattered on the floor symbolize abundance and well-being. The painting on the left seems to illustrate the words of Jesus, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," a particularly fitting choice given the happy, secure faith of this family.
A work untypical of van Ostade's oeuvre
Adriaen van Ostade spent all his life and career in Haarlem, where he produced over eight hundred paintings. Nearly all of these works are limited to just two genres. Early on, he painted picturesque scenes of rustic peasantry, then moved on to scenes of bourgeois life. Only one other group portrait by van Ostade is known, a more intimate work now in the Museum Bredius in The Hague. The painting in the Louvre, with its touching blend of archaic austerity and subtle use of tone and color, is thus an exception in van Ostade's prolific body of work.
BibliographyExposition, Paris, musée du Petit-Palais, 1970, Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, pp. 152-153.
Adriaen van OSTADE (Haarlem, 1610-Haarlem, 1685)
Oil on wood
H. 70 cm; L. 88 cm
Louis XVI collection; purchased in Holland, 1785
Holland, middle and second half of 17th century
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