FRANS DECKER (Haarlem 1684 – 1751 Haarlem)
Frans Decker (Haarlem 1684 – 1751 Haarlem)
Portrait of a Gentleman
Oil on canvas, oval, 48 x 40.5 cm (18.9 x 15.9 inch); presented in a gilded oval frame of early 18th-century design
Private collection, France
Frans Decker was born in Haarlem, where he was apprenticed to Romeyn de Hooghe (1645–1708) and Bartholomeus Engels (1636–1702), according to his biographer Johan van Gool, writing in his Nieuwe Schouburg, published in The Hague in 1750.1 In 1706 Decker became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke, meaning he was by then active as an independent painter.
During the next decades he established himself as the leading portrait painter of the Haarlem elite, but he also produced refined genre paintings, frequently depicting tavern scenes, which were popular during the period. These genre paintings were inspired by painters of the Golden Age, but Decker’s palette was lighter in tone, in keeping with the prevailing fashion of the eighteenth century, the Silver Age. Among Decker’s pupils were Cornelis van den Berg, Tako Hajo Jelgersma and Cornelis van Noorde.
The portraits by Decker also follow the fashion on the period, with bright colours, beautifully arranged draperies, and frequently painted on oval canvases. Many of his portraits are still in Haarlem, such as the portrait of Salomon Focke and various other sitters in the Hofje van Noblet,2 and a group portrait of four “regenten” or administrators of the Hofje van Staats.3 Three other group portraits by Decker of the male and female administrators of the St Elisabeth Gasthuis and the St Joris Proveniershuis, are preserved in the collections of the Frans Hals Museum (fig.).4
The present painting was recently discovered in a French collection and has been convincingly identified as a work by Decker. The identity of the sitter, with deeply penetrating gaze, wearing a house “rock” and holding a small volume, is sadly no longer known. Beyond him, the profile of the town of Haarlem can be discerned, notably its great St Bavo church.
1. Johan van Gool, Nieuwe Schouburg..., The Hague 1750, vol. I, pp. 341-42; for the artist, see also: K. Stubbé, ‘Studies voor regentenportretten door Frans Decker (1684-1751)’, Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 4 (1985), p. 287-295.
2. Oil on canvas, oval, 80.5 x 64.5 cm, dated 1750, RKD Images 123209.
3. Oil on canvas, 176 x 156 cm, dated 1733; B.Sliggers, Wat in Staats staat en stond. Kunst en kunstnijverheid in het Hofje van Staats te Haarlem, Haarlem 1987, afb.7.
4. See A. de Bruin, Een groots gebaar: de schenking van het Elisabeth van Thüringenfonds, Haarlem 2011, pp. 34-35 and Stubbé, op. cit.; the last painting is reproduced here, oil on canvas, 166 x 221 cm, dated 1737, inv. no. 71.