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Work Gathering of Smokers and Drinkers
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
Gathering of Smokers and Drinkers
© 2009 RMN / Stéphane Maréchalle
This triple portrait, which Simon de Vos painted in 1626, shows him flanked by two friends, Jan Cossiers and Johan Geerlof. The three artists were together in Aix-en-Provence. The iconography (a smoking scene) and composition (half-length figures in chiaroscuro) are directly based on works by the Caravaggists of Utrecht, perhaps even on some of the young Caravaggio's early works, which Vos might have seen on a journey to Rome.
A puzzling inscription
Three young men, shown half-length, gather to drink and smoke pipes. The figures' style is characteristic of the young Simon de Vos's early work: their faces have thick features and their eyes are set wide apart. This could be one of those jovial genre scenes that were so popular during the seventeenth century. However, a rather puzzling inscription in the hand of Simon de Vos - "Fecit Simon Cossiers Geerlof Anno 1626" - precludes us from making a simple interpretation. It is hard to give an exact translation of that phrase, which could be a pun. It might be a tribute by Simon de Vos to Jan Cossiers and Johan Geerlof, the two artist friends flanking him in this portrait.
A portrait of three friends
The hypothesis that this painting might be a triple portrait is based on cross-checking the three artists' careers. Simon de Vos and Jan Cossiers both trained in Cornelis de Vos's studio, where they became friends. Then they settled in Aix-en-Provence, where several artists from the Low Countries lived. One of them was Johan Geerlof, a landscape painter from Zealand. This may well be a triple portrait of artists sharing a friendly goblet of wine. Simon de Vos, whose physical appearance is known from a portrait by Abraham de Vries (1635, Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts), is in the middle. No portraits of his two friends are known, but they probably appear in the same order as the dedication, with Jan Cossiers on the left and Johan Geerlof on the right.
A Caravaggist work
The painting's composition, tightly framing three half-length figures, was strongly influenced by the Caravaggists of Utrecht. Those artists, such as Baburen and Ter Brugghen, spread in noerthern Europe the lessons they learned from Caravaggio in Rome, painting scenes of merry-makers drinking, smoking and playing music in a characteristic chiaroscuro. Simon de Vos adapted that fashionable scheme to this triple portrait, where he used a dark palette heightened by the dazzlingly white lace collars. The artists' faces, sculpted by light coming from the painting's left-hand side, stand out against a neutral ground. The picture may have been based on the early works of the young Caravaggio himself, which Simon de Vos probably saw on a presumed journey to Rome. Caravaggio, who gave his image much thought, had already inserted his self-portrait among the other figures in some of his genre scenes. The tone of this painting is serious and pleasant at the same time. The heads are seen from a three-quarter, fullface and profile view, like three facets of a single friendship.
BibliographyHans Vlieghe, "À propos d'un portrait de trois hommes par Simon de Vos (1603-1676) au Louvre", La Revue du Louvre, 1988, 1, pp. 37-38.
Simon de VOS (Antwerp, 1603-Antwerp, 1676)
Gathering of Smokers and Drinkers
Oil on canvas
H. 63 cm; L. 93 cm
Gift of the Cottini, 1899
The painters Jan Cossiers, Simon de Vos, Johan Geerlof, then present in Aix-en-Provence
Rubens and 17th-century Flemish painting
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