Lot 147
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Old Masters, Nineteenth Century & Early Modern Art | 8 September 2020
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Matthijs Maris (1839-1917)

The bridal veil

oil (and possibly chalk) on canvas, 66,5x57,5 cm
Painted circa 1905-1915.

Exhibited:
-London, The French Gallery, ‘Memorial Exhibition Matthew Maris’, November-December 1917, no. 31 or 33 (both as: ‘Figure Subject’, from the Artist’s Studio).
-London, Beaux Arts Gallery, after 1923.
-The Hague, Gemeentemuseum ‘s-Gravenhage, ‘Maris tentoonstelling’, 22 December 1935-2 February 1936, no. 204, as: 'De bruidsluier'.
-Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 'Matthijs Maris', 6 October 2017-7 January 2018, no. 79.

Literature:
-Ernest D. Fridlander, ‘Matthew Maris’, London & Boston 1921, p. 76.
-Jos de Gruyter, ‘De Maris-tentoonstelling in het Gemeentemuseum’, in Het Vaderland, 24 December 1935.
-Richard Bionda, 'Matthijs Maris', Amsterdam 2017, ill. p. 260, 261, no. 79.

Provenance:
-Collection Mrs. Isabella van Wisselingh-Angus, London/Northwood, 1917-1928; Her auction, Christie’s, London, 13 April 1928, lot 35, as: ‘The Bridal Veil: A Girl Enveloped in White’.
-Collection McLaren, London.
-Auction, Christie’s, London, 16 December 1931, lot 758.
-With Frederick Lessore/Beaux Art Gallery, London, by 1935.
-Collection Mr. D.H. Cevat, London.
-With Kunsthandel E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam, 1952, no. S7330.
-Collection Mr. C.A.C.M. Tiebackx, Ouderkerk.
-Auction, Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 13 October 1971, lot 343.
-With Kunsthandel E.J. van Wisselingh & Co., Amsterdam, no. S8867.
-Private Collection, Canada, 1973.
-Auction, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 26 April 1999, lot 299, where acquired by the present owner.
-Private collection, Amsterdam.

Matthijs Maris is probably one of the most enigmatic Dutch artists of the nineteenth century. Born in 1839 in The Hague as the second of the three famous Maris siblings, it seems only natural that he would have developed into a representative of the up-and-coming The Hague School. His undeniable talent was spotted at an early age, but his individualistic character was also immediately apparent. In the beginning of his career, Matthijs was highly dependent on his elder brother Jacob – however, Jacob’s artistic influence is barely noticeable. Early on, Matthijs was drawn to foreign painting schools such as the German Romantics, through which he became interested in mysterious medieval culture. He found it difficult to connect to the general public, and as he was somewhat of a misfit in Dutch nineteenth-century art, his early paintings were often rejected by the people. This translated into a more reclusive life, in which he abstained from major exhibitions, and it nurtured his aversion to art dealers who had too much influence on artistic production.

There has always been a certain duality to Maris’ resentment of art dealers, because even though he did not like to make works on commission, he was also very dependent on a few passionate art dealers. In the late 1870s, Maris was drawn to London by one of his first big collectors, Daniel Cottier (1838–1891), but after a decade-long collaboration, he felt too restricted as an artist and switched to the patronage of the Amsterdam-based art dealer Elbert Jan van Wisselingh (1848–1912). It was during this time that he secluded himself even more from public life and spent most of his time indulging in painting mystical visions at his new place in the London Borough of Hampstead.

The present painting is a perfect example of the final stage of Maris’ oeuvre. Being more and more withdrawn from reality and public life, the artist feeds his hunger for perfection by slowly working on only a few paintings. This perfectionism is apparent in both composition and in texture and becomes a real obsession where the artist is never satisfied with the results. Over a span of several years, Maris puts one layer of paint over the other until he achieves a rough and seemingly gritty surface in which the subject almost evaporates. As biographer De Gruyter states about Maris’ method for works from this period, including the present painting: ‘From month to month and from year to year, returning to them and changing them, drawing a new veil over the dense fabric of paint and dreams ten, twenty times, as though they were precious stones which one secretly removes from their case now and then to look at and polish them, to hold and to shine them.’ He also experimented with new materials by combining, for example, chalks with oils. Given the brittle texture of the painting, this might have been the case for ‘The Bridal Veil’. The ephemeral and intangible effect is meant to be ‘absorbed’ by the spectator as a song; one can almost inhale the spirit of the painting. With his monochromatic hazes, Maris wanted to achieve a fusion of form and spirit referring directly to the upcoming symbolism.

As the artist strove for a form of art which is self-explanatory, he seldom gave his later London works a title. Maris mysteriously explains his relation to the spectator as one in which ‘spirit answers spirit’. The title of this painting, ‘The Bridal Veil’, was probably not given by the artist himself, as the work is known in the Memorial Exhibition of 1917 as ‘Figure Subject’. Furthermore, the frame of the painting is a later contribution of one of the prominent collectors of this work. It was probably added by the sculptor and art dealer Frederick Lessore (1879–1951), who acquired the painting in 1931. The misspelled text on the frame refers to the biblical Song of Songs and contributes to the mystical character of the artwork. We should however be cautious about linking the various meanings of this text to the painting itself.

The subject of the bridal veil is characteristic for the symbolic time at the turn of the century. For Matthijs Maris, ‘lifting the veil’ could indicate his search for a more ideal art form and the duality of being trapped between this quest for idealism and the limits of reality. In the exhibition catalogue of 2017, Richard Bionda refers to several literary texts that might have served as a source of inspiration for the artist. The early-nineteenth-century sonnet ‘Lift Not the Painted Veil’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) uses the metaphor of the veil to indicate the truth behind everyday reality and earthly beauty. Shelley suggests not to lift this veil. Lifting it will of course lead to truthful knowledge, but it will also lead to disillusionment and a life of disappointment. Another influential text regarding this subject is a revised edition of ‘Vanity of Regret’ by the eleventh-century Persian poet Omar Kayyám (1048–1123). Maris often recited the following verses: ‘Nothing in this world of ours/Flows as we would have it flow;/What avail, then, careful hours,/Thought and trouble, tears and woe?/Through the shrouded veil of earth,/Life’s rich colours gleaming bright,/Though in truth of little worth,/Yet allure with meteor light./Life is torture and suspense;/Thought is sorrow – drive it hence!/With no will of mine I came,/With no will depart the same.’ Maris may also have alluded to a quote by George Frederick Watts (1917–1904) in his 1880 article ‘The Present Conditions of Art’. Watts said that material prosperity has become the new deity but is unable to create real happiness. Poetry, visual arts, and music are the only way for humanity to lift this veil to the secrets of life. Ultimately, all three texts come down to the tension between the expectations of the individual and the restrictions of the rules and laws of reality.

The deeper meaning of the theme ‘lifting the veil’ was used to define various characters. There are some precedents in the visual arts which could have inspired Maris for this particular painting. Richard Bionda mentions a print after Charles Robert Leslie’s (1794–1859) Olivia, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in The Art Journal of 1863. It is known that Maris based some of his compositions on existing motifs and developed these in his own distinctive style. He adjusted the perspective to his own preference and used his peculiar technique of layers of muted paint to render the painting almost unrecognisable from the existing motif. The print of Olivia may have been a source of inspiration, but the theme of the bride has a longer history in Matthijs Maris’ oeuvre.

As one of the last paintings to be found in the artist’s studio, this work holds a special position in his oeuvre. The quality and rarity of this painting is partly reflected in the pedigree of the work, which includes multiple prominent collections and the desire of dealership E.J. van Wisselingh to buy the painting on several occasions in the course of the twentieth century. The painting is a perfect example of Maris’ mysticism and reflects his struggle with his desires and ambitions versus the reality of being. It is almost a serene cry of someone who is lost in a rapidly changing society and who does not want to give up on his dreams and ideals. The fact that he kept this work under his wings for several years and worked on it month after month and year after year shows his dedication to the painting. The method of painting layer on top of layer, time and time again, veils this painting in a mysticism unmatched by his contemporaries. Maris occupies a singular position within Dutch nineteenth-century art, by bridging the gap between the Romantic and the Modern.

This text is partly based on:
Richard Bionda, ‘Matthijs Maris’, Amsterdam 2017, p. 260-261. Richard Bionda, ‘Matthijs Maris. The Bridal Veil’, Auction Catalogue, Sotheby’s, 26 April 1999, p. 122-123, lot 299.

€ 40.000,00
€ 60.000,00
€ 56.000,00

Hamerprijs: € 56.000

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