JACOB DUCK (Utrecht c.1600 – 1667 Utrecht)

Jacob Duck

Jacob Duck (Utrecht c.1600 – 1667 Utrecht)

‘Bordeeltje’ with Amorous Couple in an Interior

45.2 x 51.6 cm (17.8 x 20.4 inch); presented in an ebonised frame of 17th-century model

~ P.W. Ochtoschinski collection, St Petersburg, 1909
~ Schloss Drachenbach near Königswinter; sold from there at Lempertz, Cologne, 16/17 October 1930, lot 297, repr.
~ Private collection, The Netherlands

J. Rosen, Jacob Duck (c.1600-1667). Catalogue raisonné, Haifa 2017, p. 50, repr. and p. 167, cat. no. 61, again repr.

Russian Art, St Petersburg, Staryje Gody, 1909, cat. no. 308


Duck was born in Utrecht; a document of 1660 in which he states that he was about 60 years of age establishes his date of birth as c.1600.1 He initially trained as a goldsmith. His parents placed him as an apprentice in 1611, and eight years later he became a master in the goldsmiths’ guild. He married Rijckgen Croock in 1620. In 1621, he was listed among the pupils of the Utrecht painter Joost Cornelisz Droochsloot and other painters, and in the same year he is recorded as a ‘conterfeyt jongen’ (apprentice portraitist) in the archives of the Utrecht painters’ guild. In 1629, he gave a painting of a musical company to the St Jobsgasthuis in Utrecht, and in 1630-33, he was listed as a master in the city’s Guild of St Luke. He evidently did not abandon his first profession, for he was still being listed as a member of the goldsmiths’ guild in 1642. As some of Duck’s paintings were offered in a lottery sponsored by the Haarlem guild in 1636, it was thought that he lived in Haarlem for a while. However, he is documented in Utrecht in 1636 and 1637, and appears to have been in his native city throughout the 1630s and 1640s. He may have been in The Hague around 1660, for there is a record of a painter there with the same name. He died in Utrecht on or just before 21 January 1667, and was buried on 28 January in the Convent of St Mary Magdalen.

Duck painted small-scale genre scenes, mainly merry companies, brothels and guardrooms. Only a few of his genre scenes are known to be dated. His earliest dated painting is from 1628. Portraits by Duck are rare. In 1644 he collaborated with Cornelis van Poelenburch, Bartholomeus van der Helst and Jan Both on a painting with a portrait of Willem Vincent, Baron van Wyttenhorst. His early paintings are stylistically related to the work of the Amsterdam painter Pieter Codde, whose Dancing Lesson of 1627 appears in the background of one of Duck’s merry companies.

Duck’s style of painting is a unique blend of the humour and eroticism found in the works of the Utrecht Caravaggisti with that of the Haarlem painters of Merry Company scenes. He painted mainly genre themes and was a central contributor to the rise and assimilation of both the Guardroom and the Brothel Scene.2 His paintings are striking due to their high level of theatricality, humour and sexual innuendo, traits he bestowed upon the following generation of Dutch genre painting.

The present painting, which had been lost for nearly a whole century until its recent rediscovery, had been known from an old photograph, on the basis of which it had been dated to around 1630-1632 by Jochai Rosen in his catalogue raisonné on the artist. He considers this work an example of a number of brothel scenes by the artist: the woman at the left, a prostitute, holds hands with one seated suitor, a highly unusual motif in Dutch Golden Age painting, while a second suitor tilts a flute glass towards her – a gesture of obvious erotic meaning, as interpreted by Rosen.

Duck’s ‘bordeeltjes’, as they were known to contemporaries, usually consisted of small companies, mostly three figures in an interior, usually richly dressed and with strong erotic connotations. The cast usually included a gypsy fortune teller or a procuress, or, as in this case, two prospective suitors. The focus on a genre subject staged with a few figures under a dramatic light was typical of the Caravaggisti, but the manner in which the figures are depicted in full-length and crammed into a small interior reveals the influence of the Haarlem Merry Company tradition. Many of Duck’s brothel scenes seem at first glance to represent respectable people in upper middle class interiors, but they are in fact brothel scenes. However, for centuries they have generally been prudently described as ‘vrolijke gezelschappen’, ‘merry companies’, out of false modesty, aimed at concealing the actual unfolding of the scene, or in difficulty at deciphering the reality of the gathering.3 The recent academic interest and attention to the true meaning of these unique scenes provides a rare insight into Dutch social habits of the seventeenth century.4

Paintings by Duck are preserved in the world’s leading museums, including the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, the Institute of Art, Minneapolis, the Hermitage, St Petersburg, the Národní Galerie, Prague, the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Our painting can be compared to Duck’s painting Couple in an Interior with a Fortune-Teller in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which dates from 1632-1633, very close in date to our work (fig.).5

1. For the artist, see J. Rosen, Jacob Duck (c.1600-1667). Catalogue raisonné, Haifa 2017, Nanette Salomon, Jacob Duck and the Gentrification of Dutch Genre Painting, Doornspijk 1998 and Gerdien Wuestman in J. Bikker (ed.), Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, I: Artists Born between 1570 and 1600, Amsterdam 2007, cat. no. 61.
2. See Rosen, op. cit. p. 49.
3. For the distinction between ‘vrolijke gezelschappen’ and ‘bordeeltjes’, see Elmer Kolfin, The Young gentry at play: Northern Netherlandish scenes of merry companies, Leiden 2005, p. 19.
4. For a discussion of prostitution in seventeenth-century Holland, see Benjamin B. Roberts, Sex and drugs before rock ‘n roll: youth culture and masculinity during Holland’s Golden Age, Amsterdam 2012, p. 159.
5. Oil on panel, oval, 25.1 x 33 cm, inv. no. 1971.102; Walter Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2007, vol. 1, pp. x, 182–84, cat. no. 41, pl. 41.