WILLEM VAN MIERIS (Leiden 1662 – 1747 Leiden)

Willem van Mieris

Willem van Mieris (Leiden 1662 – 1747 Leiden)

Joseph Interpreting Pharaoh’s Dreams

Oil on panel, 43 x 34 cm (16.9 x 13.4 inch); presented in an ebonised frame with gilt slip

~ Anonymous auction De Zon/Gijselman, Amsterdam, 23 June – 10 July 1964, lot 546
~ With dealer Euro Art Centre, Roermond, circa 1980
~ With dealer Dr A. Wieg, shown at PAN Amsterdam October 1998
~ Private collection, The Netherlands


Willem van Mieris is considered among the most talented ‘fijnschilders’ (fine painters) of Leiden, an artistic movement that commenced during the Golden Age and continued into the 18th century. Born in 1662 as the son of the genre painter Frans van Mieris the Elder (1635–1682), Willem was taught the art of painting by his father.1 When Frans died at early age in 1682, the young Willem continued the family studio, aged only nineteen; only two years later, he was able to enter the Leiden Guild of St Luke as an independent master. Willem specialised mostly in genre paintings and portraits, painted in the precise and refined manner that his father and Gerrit Dou pioneered. In 1684 Willem married Agneta Chapman, whom he often used as a model, as was recounted by Van Mieris’s early biographer Arnold Houbraken.2 Willem assembled a faithful group of wealthy patrons, who commissioned many works from him.

This painting in beautiful condition was originally paired with a painting of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, dated 1694, which appeared at auction in 2007 (fig.).3 Van Mieris also produced small-scale versions in watercolour on vellum of both these compositions, which were offered by Bob Haboldt in 2001 (fig.);4 the Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife drawing is now in the Morgan Library & Museum, New York.5 A different composition of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Van Mieris is in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe.6

The present painting is also likely to date from the middle of the 1690s and depicts the biblical story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 39:12). It has been observed that the composition of our painting is characterised by tranquillity, Joseph standing with upheld right hand in a classic gesture of speech, while the composition of Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife is immersed with movement and action. The clothing of Pharaoh and his attendants may have been inspired by Van Mieris’s celebrated 16th-century predecessor and townsman Lucas van Leyden.

We are grateful to Dr Albert Elen for his valuable remarks about this work (email correspondence 14 September 2023).


1. For the artist, see: Eric Jan Sluijter (ed.), Leidse fijnschilders: van Gerrit Dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge 1630-1760, exh. cat. Leiden (Lakenhal) 1988, pp. 152-168 and Peter Hecht, De Hollandse fijnschilders: van Gerrit Dou tot Adriaen van der Werff, exh. cat. Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) 1989, pp. 103-128.
2. Arnold Houbraken, De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen…, The Hague 1718, vol. III, p. 12.
3. Oil on panel, 43.5 x 34.3 cm, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2007, lot 436, repr. ($72,000); Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Holländische Maler, Stuttgart-Paris 1928, p. 109 cat. no. 9.
4. Watercolour on vellum, 168 x 141 mm; A.J. Elen, ‘”Ongemeen uitvoerig op Perkament met sapverven behandeld”. De gekleurde tekeningen van Willem van Mieris uit de collectie Jonas Witsen’, Delineavit et Sculpsit, no. 15, May 1995, pp. 14-15, nos. 2-3.
5. Watercolour on vellum, 170 x 143 mm, inv. no. 2001.46; Jane Shoaf Turner (ed.), Dutch drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library: seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, New York 2006, cat. no. 399, repr.
6. Oil on panel, 46.2 x 37.5 cm, inv. no. 276.