de jonckheere old masters

Abel Grimmer

Landscape and manor with the proposal of Isaac and Rebecca

Panel: 74,5 x 96,5 cm
Monogrammed “AB.GR.16...” bottom right


This hitherto unseen pastoral scene in front of a manor house is one of Abel Grimmer’s masterpieces. Mixing the beauty of the architecture, the grace of the characters and the delicacy of the landscape, this work is one of the painter’s finest of his career.

This painting is not only surprising in its size, but also in the ingenuity of its composition. Abel Grimmer takes the liberty of juxtaposing the impressive mass of a castle with the lightness of a courtship scene opening onto a distant landscape, while maintaining its balance. Occupying the entire left-hand side of the panel, the manor house allows the artist to demonstrate his true mastery in his portrayal of a palace from that era. He deploys all his talent as a colourist in a variety of shades of beige and ochre with great visual precision. A former architect, Grimmer takes pleasure in embellishing the windows, arcades and balconies with filigree, a testimony to the final manifestations of the flamboyant Gothic style in northern Europe.

Just like the wonderful Market Square of Bergen op Zoom kept at the National Gallery in Washington, the lines of perspective, emphasised by the building’s architecture, support the whole painting. The light and shade effect fits in perfectly and plunges the middle-ground into a half-light that favours the overall balance. The flock of frolicking animals, and the peasants going about their business around a large well, leads our gaze to the cottage emerging from the light in the background, which creates both a separation and a link with the verdant landscape spreading out towards the horizon, appearing to delicately evaporate into the bluish tints of the azure sky.

The foreground of the painting is filled with a great number of particularly detailed characters. Their slim figures and the great variety of colours of their clothes are typical of the characters painted by the master. While the peasants’ and servants’ clothing is typically European, that of the main characters is more oriental (conical hats and turbans) or “classical” (togas and military uniforms). The subject of the painting is actually biblical. It portrays Rebecca, the future wife of Isaac, being asked for her hand in marriage.

When his wife Sarah died, Abraham set out to find a wife for his son Isaac. He asked his best servant to go to Haran, the land of his ancestors, to find a young girl worthy of his son. Arriving at a well, the servant finds a young woman called Rebecca, who looks exactly like the one in the prophecy. Rebecca presents the servant to her brother Laban, Abraham’s cousin and a wealthy landowner, and asks him to allow her to marry Isaac. Abel Grimmer portrays this scene in the centre of his painting. After having left the well, the servant asks for the young girl’s hand in marriage on behalf of his master. He holds his turban in his left hand as a sign of respect for his host and offers a bag of silver with his right hand as a dowry for the future bride’s brother. Understanding the situation, the servants joyfully bustle about in preparation for the banquet that will have to be organised, under the amused gaze of the rather unmilitary-like soldiers.

Here, Grimmer achieves a highly technical masterstroke by managing to transcribe the vivacity of the characters, the compact reality of a flock of sheep and the inert power of a very large building in the same plane. The trees closing the painting on the right, reaching skywards into a fluffy transparency, are also part of this fragile balance that the painter so wonderfully masters.

Plunged into the atmosphere of a Renaissance manor house, the viewer takes part in the joys of the preparations for the festivities. Abel Grimmer reaches beyond the details of the subject to deploy his genius of composition and colour effects in this painting. He demonstrates his incredible skill at reproducing the art of men and the beauty of nature through his brushstroke and the richness of his colourist's palette.

Provenance :
Sir George Leon Murray Marx;
A.J. Sully collection;
Arthur Toolth & Sons Ltd, 31 Button Street, London W1;
Acquired from the latter by Mr and Mrs Timothy Lewis, circa 1977;
Private collection.

Littérature :
Reine de Bertier de Sauvigny, Jacob et Abel Grimmer, Brussels, 1991, no. LXXXI and illustrated pl.119.