Eight Dutch Masters: Gabriel Metsu

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Gabriel Metsu
(1629, Leiden - 1667, Amsterdam)

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  • Nicholas Maes
  • Rembrandt van Rijn
  • Jan Steen
  • Michael Sweerts
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Born at Leiden, in January 1629, son of the painter Jacques Metsu, under whom he probably first studied. He also studied with Dou. In 1648 he was a founder member of the guild in Leiden; he left c. 1650 for a time, but was resident again in 1652 and 1654. He may have visited Utrecht as he seems also to have been influenced by Utrecht artists, particularly Nicolaus Knüpfer and J.B. Weenix. By 1657 he had settled in Amsterdam where he lived on the Prinsengracht and where he was buried on 24 October 1667. In Leiden he had painted some history subjects, but he came to specialize in genre scenes reflecting the influences of Maes and ter Borch and latterly of the Delft School. His technique evolved from the quite broadly painted Leiden works to the meticulous fijnschilder manner of his later Amsterdam years. He occasionally painted portraits and still lifes. One of his best-known works, The Sick Child (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), is often compared with Vermeer. His work is rarely dated, so his development and relationships with other artists are difficult to trace.

expert opinion: Alejandro Vergara

In 1657 Metsu moved to Amsterdam where he spent the rest of his life and produced most of his important works. There he absorbed various different influences (one of his key qualities as an artist) which he synthesizes into a manner of painting which was both unique and of extremely high quality. Ter Borch is the artist who most influenced him at this point, as can be seen in his figure types, his manner of representing gestures and actions, and his subjects, some of which Metsu helped to popularize, such as the woman at her dressing-table. Also important during these years was Nicolaes Maes, who despite of being younger than Metsu, influenced his interest in market scenes and the subject of women giving alms to children.

As with Vermeer and other artists, it is difficult to establish a chronology far Metsu's work, as most of his paintings are not dated. Although it is difficult to decide on the origin of elements which Metsu shared with other artists, it seems clear that two of his finest works, Gentleman Writing a Letter and A Lady Reading a Letter of around 1665, are slightly later than similar paintings by Pieter de Hooch and Vermeer and are undoubtedly inspired by them. Thus, the spatial clarity of Metsu's paintings, the compositional importance of the end wall and the floor and the proliferation of geometrical forms which contribute to the unity of the scene are all qualities more associated with De Hooch and Vermeer than with Metsu himself. Around 1660 the artist developed a more individual approach in the choice of, subjects, evident in works such as the Sick Child (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), one of his most famous paintings.

Alejandro Vergara
Vermeer and the Dutch Interior
Madrid, 2003, p.210