Willem Craeyvanger and Christine van der Wart had eight children, six boys and two girls. The whole family was portrayed between 1651 and 1658. It is remarkable that they were depicted in single portraits, and not, what could have been expected, in a group portrait. These ten paintings stayed in the family for more than 350 years, until they were auctioned in 2009. Fortunately, the present – American – owner bought the group as a whole, ensuring that they can remain together in the future. The Craeyvanger Legacy can now be seen for the first time in Germany.
Willem Craeyvanger, cloth merchant in Arnhem, had his portrait painted when he visited the city of The Hague – probably for business – in 1651. The painter in question was Paulus Lesire, a well-known artist in the city where the Dutch Stadholders had their court. It is astonishing that Lesire only painted Craeyvanger’s portrait and not that of his spouse, probably because she could not travel that far, being with her seventh child. Nevertheless, a companion piece was most certainly planned as one can gather from the composition of the portrait of Willem.
Indeed, Christine van der Wart’s portrait was made four or five years
later, when she had reached the age of 35 and was thus presented at the same age her husband had, when he was painted. Lesire, however, had passed away in 1654 and the couple had to look for another painter. They found him in Deventer, not too far from their home town Arnhem. Gerard ter Borch was by far the most successful and famous painter in the eastern part of the Dutch Republic and he owned a thriving business.
Ter Borch did not paint her portrait himself, though, but left it to his talented young assistant Caspar Netscher from Heidelberg, who was at the time only 16 or 17 years of age. Moreover Ter Borch allowed him to sign the portrait with his own name. It is Netscher’s earliest known painting. Probably Ter Borch had not much interest in painting the portrait himself, because he was forced to adapt style and composition to the existing portrait of Lesire.
Nevertheless, Ter Borch was actively involved in the second commission of the Craeyvanger family, the portraying of the eight children that survived childbirth. The four eldest sons Jan, Willem, Reijnder and Engel were painted by Ter Borch himself, the younger sons Peter and Gerrit and their even younger sisters Lijsbeth and Naleke were depicted by Caspar Netscher – just before the latter left Ter Borch’s studio for a promising career in The Hague.
The eight children were presented as four pairs of pendants, according to age. Ter Borch concentrated primarily on the high quality of the faces and his brilliant feeling for texture of the different kinds of clothes, whereas Caspar Netscher introduced playful elements in his compositions, like a bird cage on a table or flowers in a skirt. Only one of these portraits is dated 1658 but it is presumed that they were all painted around the same time. It is not very likely that the whole family travelled to Deventer to have their portraits made. Probably Ter Borch and Netscher went to Arnhem to make sketches and work out the portraits in their studio.
In 1666 Willem Craeyvanger went bankrupt, and shortly thereafter his wife Christine died. Fortunately the paintings did not fell prey to the creditors and after Willem Craeyvanger passed away, the whole series ended up with his second son Willem Jr. and remained in his family until 2009.