JACOB DE WIT (Amsterdam 1695 – 1754 Amsterdam)

Jacob de Wit

Jacob de Wit (Amsterdam 1695 – 1754 Amsterdam)

The Head of the Virgin

Black, red and white chalk, brown wash, black framing lines, on light brown-grey paper, 380 x 299 mm (15 x 11.8 inch); tipped along the left edge onto Ploos’s mount, with framing lines in gold leaf, pencil and grey wash

Signed ‘JdWit’ (pen and brown ink, lower right)

~ Cornelis Ploos van Amstel (1726–1798), Amsterdam (Lugt 3002-3004), with his inscription ‘Jb. dwit. f / hoog 15 d / breed 11 ¾ d’ (pen and brown ink, on Ploos’s mount); his sale, Philippe van der Schley, Amsterdam, 3 March 1800, possibly Album DD, lot 8 (‘Een dito [Hoofd van Maria] met zwart, rood en wit Kryt, door denzelven [J. de Wit]’, to ‘Boddens’ for fl. 5.5)
~ Professor Johan Quirijn van Regteren Altena, Amsterdam (1899–1980), until sold by his descendants in 2015 (his collector’s mark applied on the mount)


Jacob de Wit was born in Amsterdam and received his early training when he was only nine years old from the painter Albert Spiers.1 At the age of thirteen he left for Antwerp to study with Jacob van Hall and became an admirer of Rubens and Van Dyck. De Wit quickly developed into the leading decorative painter in Amsterdam. From 1717 on De Wit had so much work on his hands ‘that he scarcely knew were to begin’, according to the artist’s biographer Jacob van Gool in 1750.

One of De Wit’s specialties were grisaille paintings, giving the illusion of marble reliefs. These grisailles are knowns as ‘Witjes’, after the artist to whom they had brought such fame. Many of the houses along the Herengracht and Keizersgracht canals of Amsterdam are still adorned with ceiling paintings and wall panels by De Wit. Together with Cornelis Troost, De Wit is rightly considered among the most important and gifted artists of the Dutch eighteenth century, the Silver Age.

This monumental study of the head of the Virgin, with its tranquil expression and masterly applied brown wash, is among the most impressive drawings of heads by Jacob de Wit. A comparable drawing of a head of the Virgin, in profile looking to the left, also in black and white chalk on brown-grey paper, is preserved in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem (fig.).2 A further similar sheet, with the head of the Virgin in similar posiiton to the Teylers sheet, is in the Graphische Sammlung, Frankfurt am Main (fig.).3

De Wit also frequently drew heads of Christ, usually seen en face. That these carefully finished drawings were highly favoured by contemporary collectors is evidenced by the collection of Cornelis Ploos van Amstel (1726–1798), who in addition to the present sheet owned two further drawings with heads of the Virgin.


1. For the artist, see: A. Staring, Jacob de Wit: 1695–1754, Amsterdam 1958, J. Huisken, Jacob de Wit: de Amsteltitiaan, Amsterdam 1986 and G. van den Hout and R. Schillemans, Putti en Cherubijntjes: het religieuze werk van Jacob de Wit (1695–1754), Haarlem/Amsterdam 1995-96.

2. Black and white chalk on brown-grey paper, 252 x 223 mm; inv. no. TvB T 526.

3. Black, red and white chalk, brown wash, 314 x 240 mm; inv. no. 2045.