CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

M Leuven Acquires Head Study by Michaelina Wautier

M Leuven acquired a recently discovered painting from the oeuvre of Michaelina Wautier, who worked in Brussels in the seventeenth-century. Study of a Head of a Bearded Man from ca. 1655 was attributed to Wautier by Katlijne Van der Stighelen (KU Leuven). The work will be presented in the new collection presentation at M in 2024. Through this display, the museum aims to further redress the balance between female and male artists and to highlight an underexposed area of art history.

Michaelina Wautier (1614–1689), Study of a Head of a Bearded Man, ca. 1655
M, Leuven

Wautier’s study depicts an elderly, bearded man, looking upwards, against a dark background. In terms of composition, the work corresponds to her paintings of Saint Joseph and Saint Joachim, both of which belong to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Like the saints, Wautier’s study of the old man is also half-length. Several quick strokes of white pigment, which illuminate the man’s shirt in the dark, bear witness to Michaelina’s pictorial skills and technical prowess. The principal difference with the works depicting Joseph and Joachim is that this study was not finished in detail, although the fluid brushwork and dashes of brown and ochre are relatively similar, as Van der Stighelen’s research proves. These similarities allowed her to date the study, made from life, to around 1655. At that time, only men were allowed to paint from living models. Consequently, the painted study was erroneously attributed to Anthony van Dyck for many years.