4. Anonymous Dutch

Girl Sleeping, Portrait of ‘Elisabeta de Lendelee’; verso: Portrait of Maria Hessels

The ferry service between the Zuiderzee ports of Amsterdam and Harlingen was introduced in the mid-sixteenth century. Every day, sailing ships known as beurtschepen travelled between the provinces of Holland and Friesland carrying passengers and light goods. According to this drawing’s inscriptions, on 17 May 1616, ‘Elisabeta de Lendelee’ (depicted on the recto of the sheet) and ‘Jonff Maria Hessels’ (verso) sailed on one of these ferries. While the girl lies down, perhaps because she has been rocked to sleep by the motion of the waves or because she feels seasick,1 and the woman (looking rather concerned) stares straight ahead, the artist seized the opportunity to capture them. They are both drawn in great detail in red chalk. The colour notes and the sketch of the coat of arms in the drawing of the woman suggest that it was intended as a preliminary study for a painted portrait.

The fact that there was a connection between the two women, and that they were not fellow travellers by chance, has never been noticed before. Marie (or Maria) Hessels was the daughter of the Ghent lawyer Jacob Hessels (1505-1585) and his second wife Jetz van Hoytema (d. 1572).2 She married Josse de Beer (d. 1605), who was the lord of Lendelede. The title of Maria’s first husband might explain the girl’s ‘surname’, and it is therefore conceivable that mother and daughter are portrayed here. It appears that the couple had three children: Jean, Clémence and Isabeau, which may be a variant of the name Elisabeth.3 Both families, the Hessels and the De Beers, had come from Southwest Flanders. We do not know what brought the two women to the Northern provinces of the Netherlands. One possible explanation might be found in ‘Jan de Cat’ who was apparently Maria Hessels’s second husband and from whom, according to the inscription, she had been widowed by 1616.

The reference to the port of Harlingen in the inscription may have led to attempts in the past to attribute this sheet to a Frisian portrait painter. Wybrand de Geest (1592 – after 1661), who came from Leeuwarden, was long regarded as the maker of the sheet.4 While this cannot be ruled out on the basis of stylistic characteristics,5 in 1616 the artist was in Aix-en-Provence.6 Like its previous owner, Hofstede de Groot, Frits Lugt consequently regarded this remarkable drawing as an anonymous work.

MvS

1From the description in Grimaldi’s sale catalogue: ‘souffrant apparemment de mal de mer’ (seems to be suffering from sea sickness).

2L.J.J. van der Vynckt, Des Troubles des Pays-Bas, II, 1822, pp. 39-40 (there is a reference to an epitaph with information about the family in St Michael’s Church in Ghent); Marcus van Vaernewyck, De historie van Belgis of Kronyke der Nederlandse Oudheyd, 1829, pp. 54-57.

4See provenance.

5See, for example, the drawing in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. RP-T-1960-1.

6C. Hofstede de Groot, ’Het vriendenalbum van Wibrand Symonszoon de Geest’, Oud-Holland, vol. 7 (1889), no. 1, pp. 235-40; Piet Bakker, De Friese schilderkunst in de Gouden Eeuw, Zwolle (Waanders) 2008, pp. 183 and 186.