Thursday, 29 May 2014

Verspronck’s Style Development in his Portraiture

Johannes Verspronck, A Young Lady, 1637
National Trust, Tyntesfield, The Gibbs Collection, North Somersert
On a recent visit to Tyntesfield House (owned by the National Trust) I came across a painting by the Dutch 17th century master Johannes Verspronck (ca. 1600-1662). If you have read my blog before you might well know I admire Verspronck’s paintings enormously. I have hope that his delicate and subtle paintings will perhaps one day come together in an exhibition and book as there is little literature on him or his work. Only as recent as 2011 did the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem acquire a number of paintings by this Haarlem master - they now own a proud 10 pieces. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam owns a further 8. Many, many other pieces are scattered all over the globe. According to the brilliant website BBC Your Paintings there are 5 paintings by his hand in the UK, including the Tyntesfield one. Not all are convincingly by Verspronck, however, although the Ashmolean Museum piece and the V&A portrait do not raise any doubts whatsoever. The National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery unfortunately do not own any Versproncks.

To many viewers, his paintings might look alike. Portraits of men and women, often with a dark brown background, wearing black clothing and a fabulous snow-white ruff. There are a few exceptions of course, but the majority of Verspronck’s pieces are indeed like this. But they are so much more. The delicacy of his brush strokes is truly beautiful and contrasts so starkly with his better known contemporary, colleague, competitor and fellow townsman Frans Hals. But we should not dismiss Verspronck for his lack of expressionistic brushwork. He offers the Haarlem burghers a different product; a more quiet, still and refined portrait.

The portrait in Tyntesfield House in Somerset is an early work. Dating from 1637 it shows an unknown lady. Her face is painted very fine, delicate and smooth.

Johannes Verspronck, A Young Lady (detail), 1637
National Trust, Tyntesfield, The Gibbs Collection, North Somerset

Throughout Verspronck’s quiet but prolific career his painting style would develop and mature. The smoothness of his brushwork gives way to more confident marks that have lost nothing of its delicacy. Here is a detail of an early portrait of a boy from 1634:
Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of a Young Boy (detail) , 1634
Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
And this detail, painted in the same year as our Tyntesfield portrait:

Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel, 1637 (detail)
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

This detail of a portrait from 1641 shows a growing confidence in leaving brush marks visible
Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of a Man (detail), 1641
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
This one in the Rijksmuseum becomes very painterly:

Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of Maria van Strijp (detail), 1652
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
And this one
Johannes Verspronck, Portrait of Man (detail), 1653
Private Collection. Image: Eldred’s Auctioneers
More Blog Posts about Verspronck:
Verspronck’s Style Development
Verspronck’s Quiet Grandeur
A Little Verspronck
The Lace Maker
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  1. I can’t say that I’m familiar with Verspronck’s works, but looking closely at the pics in your post, it’s clear that all of his portraits are exquisite and delicate, even his latter works. The paintings span across 16 years.

    Do you think, if I can ask, that later in life Verspronck knew he was established and realized he could “get away” with less work, visible brush strokes, and that it wasn’t necessarily that his confidence grew or his style evolved? Of course his style and confidence developed with time, but I say this because blending takes longer to finish a painting, any painting.

  2. Hi Joseph, thanks for thinking along! I am not sure, to tell you the truth. Not much is known about Verspronck so all we can do is guess. Eloquent brush work is very difficult to pull off, done right. So it might have been development and confidence, but it could also be a sign of fashion - other painters worked more painterly and he might have followed suit, although earlier in his career he obviously chose not do that. I can’t imagine it was his ‘fame’ that made him sloppy - as his clients will have demanded a certain level. Also, the later paintings do not look like fast work he could ‘get away’ with. The strokes are well thought out, the colour mixed and chosen carefully. All I can think of is that he changed his style to follow reigning taste or his own taste....


Hi, Please leave any comments here. Thanks, Sophie.


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