Jan de Bray (ca. 1627–1698), Caring for orphans, 1663
Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum
Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
From the museum website
Father Salomon: universal artist
Salomon de Bray (1597-1664) was a versatile man who, besides from painting, also worked as an architect, urban planner, poet, theoretician, and designer of silverware. However, first and foremost he was a history painter. In those days, the portrayal of biblical and classical histories was seen as the highest form of painting. The focus was on the appealing portrayal of human dealings and the moral choices behind these. Salomon received his most prestigious commission around 1648 when he was asked to paint two canvases for the Oranjezaal at the palace Huis ten Bosch. Amalia van Solms required this room decorated in memory of her late husband, Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik. Of course, these paintings cannot be physical removed Huis ten Bosch. Fortunately, 13 other of Salomon’s major works will be on display, including Badende nimf die haren kamt (Bathing nymph combing her hair) from the Louvre in Paris. This is a unique work as it is the earliest known painting of female nudity ‘in itself’ which does not portray the subject acting in the manner of, or symbolising Venus or Bathsheba.
Eldest son Jan de Bray: Frans Hals’ successor
As did his father, Jan de Bray (ca. 1627–1698) worked as a history painter for the rich intelligentsia. After Frans Hals’ death, he succeeded Hals as the preferred portraitist for Haarlem’s upper classes. In addition to history canvases, de Bray painted portraits of the governors of various Haarlem institutions, and three mantelpiece paintings for the City Hall. The Oordeel van Zaleucus (Trial of Zaleucus) will leave the Sheriff’s Courtroom at City Hall for the duration of the exhibition. Twenty-nine works by Jan de Bray will be shown, including Banket van Antonius en Cleopatra (Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra) from the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in London.
Younger sons Joseph and Dirck: flower still lifes
Dirck (ca. 1635–1694) specialised initially in prints. Later he turned his focus to painting still lifes of flowers, as did his brother Joseph (ca. 1632–1664). A total of eight works by Joseph and Dirck will be exhibited in the show.
Restoration with surprises
In preparation for the exhibition, the Frans Hals Museum restored two works. The canvas ‘Laat de kinderkens tot mij komen: Pieter Braems en zijn gezin’ (‘Suffer the little children come to me: Pieter Braems and his family’) by Jan de Bray provided several amazing surprises for the restorers. Around the Christ figure are several fellow observers who were added later. A sketch for this painting from Jan’s atelier has in fact been preserved, in which the four figures are missing. Who these men are, and why they were added, remains a puzzle. The exhibition will explore the mysteries surrounding these additions to the painting.
Many works by the De Bray painters have an exciting, theatrical and narrative character. On Sunday 24 February and Sunday 20 April 2008 there will be special Story Days suitable for the entire family. The Haarlem rhetorical debating society, ‘Trou moet blijcken’, in existence since 1503, will present four historical tableaux vivants on Sunday 30 March and 4 April, drawing their inspiration from the paintings of Jan de Bray.
An exhibition catalogue will be published to coincide with the show, containing contributions from Pieter Biesboer, Emilie Gordenker, Friso Lammertse, Fred Meijer, Ariane van Suchtelen and Gerdien Wuestman. (Soft cover, retail price € 24.95, 160 pages; plates in colour and black and white, ISBN 978 90 400 8445 4, 978 90 400 8447 8 English-language version, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle)