A Lady receiving a Letter
Ludolf de Jongh (Overschie 1616 - Hillegersberg 1679)
Art / Oil paintings
Oil on canvas
584 x 724 mm (23 x 28 1/2 in)
Place of origin
RotterdamOrder this image
Ascott Estate, Buckinghamshire
Oil painting on canvas, A Lady receiving a Letter by Ludolf de Jongh (Overschie 1616 - Hillegersberg 1679), signed on the picture of 'Diana and Actaeon' (based on an engraving by Antonio Tempesta) hanging in the background: L. C. D. Jonge, circa 1658. Four figures in an apartment with a black-and-white tiled floor and a door at the end leading to another room, above which hangs the picture of Diana and Actaeon; a lady, in blue and white dress holds a letter or deed, which she has evidently just received from a cavalier who stands at the right beside a window with his back to the specatator, wearing a red claok; an old servant sits sewing in the background and a young one enters from a door at the right with a basket of linen. In the foreground are a spaniel and greyhound. (Pentiments in figure seen through background door). The subject of the picture may be symbolic as Actaeon was devoured by his own hounds after accidentally seeing Diana and her nymphs bathing.
This painting was once part of the choice collection of paintings, furniture, and objects in the goût Beckford - many of the latter, indeed, from the very sale of William Beckford's own collection in 1823 - put together by George Lucy (1789-1845) of Charlecote, which, in the words of his widow: "bespeak him to have been a man of polished mind and refined taste" . And it was acquired, in a series of private transactions, along with a pair of Wouwermans, a Teniers, and a Hobbema, also all collected by George Lucy, by Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879), who was the great collector of the English branch of the Rothschild family - as his cousin baron Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) was to be of the French branch of the family - the only remnants of whose collection to survive as a collection do so at Ascott. Both George Lucy and Lionel de Rothschild, however, thought that they were buying a picture by a much more celebrated artist than Ludolf de Jongh, whose works were in the 19th century prized much more highly than Vermeers: Pieter de Hooch (Rotterdam 1629-Amsterdam 1684). Only when the picture had been cleaned and the signature on it discovered, prior to its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1938, was the actual artist revealed . A year after Lucy acquired it from a marchand-amateur called Thompson Martin , the dealer for the respectable sum of £250 in 1826, Thomas Emmerson wrote to him: "I made inquiry in Paris about your picture by De Hooge, which you had from Thompson Martin, and I find it came from there, and was considered remarkably fine. I always considered it so; and you will be pleased to know that it is a picture which is not known on the market, and has never been hackneyed about" - which is precisely what it must have been, for de Jongh's signature to have been concealed. In aesthetic terms, the imposture was not, however, a grave one. Although de Jongh was ten years older than de Hooch, and had begun by serving as a model for him, in this and a handful of other pictures he was patently influenced by the younger man, and in them he is inspired to attain some of de Hooch's qualities at his best: by capturing simple, everyday actions in the geometrically defined setting of a courtyard, garden or room, within which each figure and object is illuminated by precise lighting, he creates a sense of timelessness that confers on these seemingly banal scenes a quality of universality. Pieter de Hooch's earliest dated courtyard scenes are the two of 1658, with variants of the same setting, in the National Gallery and recently sold from the Byng collection at Wrotham Park , but one in the Royal Collection can probably be dated a year earlier, thanks to the date of 1657 that is to be found on one of the copies of it . 1658 is also the date associated with his signature on three of de Hooch's earliest room scenes: the Card Players in the Royal Collection , the Girl drinking with two men in the Louvre , and the Soldier paying a hostess in the collection of the Marquess of Bute . At this period, de Jongh was still painting the tavern and guardroom scenes into which he may have initiated de Hooch. Such scenes are obviously also interiors, but they lack those elements of oblong box-like geometrical space, the precisely described fall of light, and stillness, which set de Hooch's classic interiors apart from previous representations of the kind. Yet in one of them, the Tavern Scene of 1658 in the Groninger Museum, Groningen , de Jongh can be seen modifying his earlier formulae so as to adopt these very characteristics. In it, however, as in the present picture, de Jongh has retained one restless element that seems to have been something of a favourite with him, but which was avoided by de Hooch - for whom one, or none at all, was generally enough - a pair of dogs. Such treatment of people in interiors by no means remained peculiar to de Hooch and de Jongh. De Hooch's brother-in-law, Hendrik van der Burgh (Naaldwijk 1627-?Delft or Leyden after 1669), and the Flemish musician and artist, Pieter Janssens Elinga (Bruges 1623-Amsterdam before 1682), who became a citizen of Amsterdam in 1657, imitated them most consistently; but Vermeer (Delft 1632-1675) was also influenced by them in some of his earlier pictures; and even Emanuel de Witte (Alkmaar c. 1617-Amsterdam 1692), in the Interior with a view down an enfilade and a woman at a clavichord in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, and Samuel van Hoogstraten (Dordrecht 1627-1678) in his trompe l'oeil peepshow box - in the National Gallery, and in his View down an enfilade of 1662 at Dyrham Park (NT 453733), show themselves to have been passingly influenced by the same formula. As their loci of activity indicate, the formula was by no means one peculiar to Rotterdam artists (de Hooch himself anyway worked in Delft from 1652-1660/61, and thereafter in Amsterdam). Indeed, the very different treatment of 'entrance-hall' scenes by another Rotterdam artist, Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-1682) - upright, and reducing the setting so as to focus almost exclusively upon the figures - shows how little influence the formula had there, by comparison with Amsterdam and Delft. The change between 19th and 20th-century perceptions of this picture is not limited to perceiving that a different artist was responsible for it. In the 19th century almost all Dutch pictures of this kind - even patent brothel scenes - were generally viewed as illustrating the innocent diversions of upper-class company. In the case of the present picture, which takes place in the well-lit focal entrance-hall, or voorhuis of a grand house , the woman darning linen, and the servant bringing more down the stairs, do indeed appear to establish this as a virtuous domestic scene. They are there, however, as a kind of counterpoint to the central event, which is that of the richly dressed page delivering some oral message in connection with the opened letter held by the mistress of the house. As nearly always in such pictures, the letter must be a love-letter; were we to be in any doubt about it, this doubt would soon be removed by the theme of the picture prominently displayed upon the end wall: Diana and Actaeon. Although Susan Kuretsky has seen the subject of this painting on the wall simply as a parallel eruption of a male "into this peaceful sphere of feminine activity" to that of the page in the actual picture, its implication was almost certainly stronger than that: the hazard of cuckoldry, because of the horns that Diana visited upon Actaeon. That an amorous encounter is being plotted is also suggested by the encounter of the dogs in the foreground. The clock (an interesting early example of a pendulum bracket-clock) on the wall is a traditional memento mori - though the voorhuis was also the natural place for it to be installed. Such thoughts are unlikely to have troubled the mind of George Lucy, whose widow, née Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803-1889) of Bodelwyddan, presents him as a model of taste and propriety. Despite the fact that his extravagant purchases of objets de virtù and pictures, and his reconstruction - to the regret of Shakespeareans - of his ancestral Charlecote, had encumbered the estate with debt, she lovingly detailed his every purchase at the Beckford sale, and all the major - and predominantly Dutch - pictures that he had acquired, in her privately-printed Biography of the Lucy Family, the latter part of which is really one long threnody for him and their dead children . She herself, and their eldest but prematurely-deceased son, Fulke (1824-1848), resolutely set their face against the facile route of selling off George's acquisitions to amortise his debts, as her brother recommended ; but family tradition has it that, in her old age, their second son, Spencer (1830-1889), introduced [Baron Lionel de] Rothschild's agent to the house before his mother was up in the morning, so as to value them and close a deal, before she could veto their being sold . The great discretion that accompanied purchases by the Rothschilds sometimes even extended to their commissioning and substituting copies of major pieces of furniture that they acquired from aristocratic owners not yet prone to preen themselves on the sums that they had attained for, rather than expended upon, works of art; but they did not, so far as I know, ever do this in the case of paintings, or else Mary Elizabeth Lucy might have been permanently deceived. Exh: Pictures, chiefly by the Old Masters of the Italian, Flemish, and Spanish Schools, Society of Arts, Birmingham, 1833, no.67 [as by P. de Hooge]; 17th Century Art in Europe, Royal Academy, 1938, no.248, p.104 & pl.59 [as by de Jongh]. Lit: John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, London, vol.IV (1833), p.228, no.32 [erroneously giving John Lucy of Charlecote Park as the owner, and the artist as Peter de Hooge); Mary Elizabeth Lucy, Biography of the Lucy Family, London, 1862, p.166; Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné the Works of the most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, London, vol.I (1907), p.538, no.230 [as by de Hooch, repeating Smith]; Ellis Waterhouse, 'Seventeenth-Century Art in Europe at Burlington House - The Paintings', The Burlington Magazine, vol.LXXII (Jan.1938), pl.Vb [as by de Jongh]; [St. John Gore], The Ascott Collection, The National Trust, 1963, no.28, p.18 & pl.; Susan Donahue Kuretsky, The Paintings of Jacob Ochtervelt (1634—1682), Oxford, 1979, p.34 & fig. 119 (curiously as "present location unknown"); Peter C. Sutton, Pieter de Hooch, Oxford, 1980, pp.30 & 65 n.11. Notes: (i) Mary Elizabeth Lucy, Biography of the Lucy Family, London, 1862, at the beginning of a list of everything that he bought at the Fonthill sale, at a total cost of £3,431.10s 6d (pp.128-31). The words were taken from his obituary in the Warwickshire Standard for 5 July 1845 (quoted ibid, p.162). (ii) see Michael Hall, 'The English Rothschilds as Collectors', in The Rothschilds:Essays on the History of a European Family, ed. Georg Heuberger, Sigmaringen & Woodbridge, 1994, esp. pp.266-72. There is a bill of 1875 for the pair of Wouwermans, but not for any of the other pictures. (iii) R.E. Fleischer, in 'Ludolf de Jongh and the Early Work of Pieter de Hooch', Oud Holland, vol. 92 (1978), pp.49-67, lists a number of instances of false de Hooch signatures on de Jongh's paintings (p.63 n.16). (iv) This must have been Thomas Thomoson Martin, for whom the Getty Provenance Index gives dates of c.1770-1826, and whose posthumous sale of somewhat miscellaneous pictures removed from his residence, Whitehall House, was held by Foster at the Egyptian Hall on 5 May 1827, with subsequent sales held by Phillips on 6 May 1830 and 26 February 1831. (v) d.1855. Emmerson held a number of sales between May 1829 and May 1854. Posthumous sales of his pictures were held at Christie's on 17 Feb. and 23-24 March 1855, and 21-31 May 1856. There were no less than three de Hoochs in his first sale, of 1-2 May 1829 at Phillips. He himself had sold to George Lucy in 1823 the pair of Wouwermans that were to be sold to Lionel de Rothschild in 1875, and the so-called Wedding of the Artist (1651) by Teniers, and in 1824 the Hobbema that he called a 'View near Haarlem' (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), both of which were also to be acquired by Baron Lionel, but at an unknown date. In 1826 he acted for him in getting Domenichino's St. Cecilia at Lord Radstock's sale. (vi) Mary Elizabeth Lucy, Biography of the Lucy Family, 1862, p.166, quoting a letter of 12 January 1827. (vii) Peter C. Sutton, Pieter De Hooch, Oxford, 1980, cat.34, pp.84-85, col.pl.IX & pl.33. (viii) Sutton, op.cit., cat.33, p.84, col.pl.VIII & pl.32, and in exh.cat. Masters of Seventeenth Century Genre Painting, Philadelphia Museum of Art, &c. 1984, no.53. (ix) Sutton, op.cit., cat.36, p.86, pls. 39 & 37. (x) Sutton, op.cit., cat.28, pp.81-82, col.pl.VI & pl.26. (xi) Sutton, op.cit., cat.26, p.81 & pl.23. (xii) Sutton, op.cit., cat.27, p.81 & pl.24-25. (xiii) Exh.cat.cit., 1984, p.224 & fig.1. (xiv) see Susan Donahue Kuretsky, The Paintings of Jacob Ochtervelt (1634-1682), Oxford, 1979, esp. Ch.2, pp.34-39 & figs. 121-35. The author actually adduces the present painting as a yardstick, though rather curiously giving it as: "Present location unknown" (p.34 & fig.119). (xv) see Paul Zumthor, Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland, London, 1962, pp.37-38, cited by Kuretsky, op.cit., pp.34 & 39 n.2. (xvi) Kuretsky, op.cit., p.34. (xvii) M.E. Lucy, op.cit., 1862. See also Alice Fairfax-Lucy, Mistress of Charlecote:The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy, London, 1983 (paperback edn., 1985ff.); do., Charlecote and the Lucys:The Chronicle of an English Family, Oxford, 1958 (paperback edn., 1990). (xviii) Fairfax-Lucy, op.cit., 1983, p.75. (xix) Alice Fairfax-Lucy, Charlecote and the Lucys, [guidebook], Norwich, 1977, inside back cover. (xx) eg. Geoffrey de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, Fribourg, 1974, vol.I, p.330, à propos the drop-front secretaire-cum-cabinet-cum-clock acquired from the Hon. George Fitzwilliam in 1890.
Unknown collection, Paris as 'de Hooghe'; Thomas Thompson Martin (c.1770-1826); sold by him in 1826 to George Lucy (1789-1845) of Charlecote Park (NT) for £250; thence by descent to Henry Spencer Lucy (1830-1889); by whom sold circa 1875 to Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879); by whom hung in the Baron's Room at 148, Piccadilly; thence by descent to Anthony de Rothschild (1887-1961), Ascott; by whom given with the house, grounds, and most of the contents of the showrooms, in 1949
Ascott, The Anthony de Rothschild Collection (National Trust)
Makers and roles
Ludolf de Jongh (Overschie 1616 - Hillegersberg 1679), artist previously catalogued as attributed to Pieter de Hooch (Rotterdam 1629 – Amsterdam 1684), artist
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.63
Ascott, Buckinghamshire, Scala, 2008 by John Martin Robinson and others [pictures entries by Karin Wolfe on basis of Gore entries, 1963 with contributions from Alastair Laing] , no. 67 Smith 1829-42 John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, 8 vols and supplement, London, 1829-42, IV, no. 32 Hofstede de Groot 1907-28 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und Kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Maler des XVII Jahrhunderts,1907-28, I, no 230 Lucy 1842, Mary Lucy, Biography of Lucy Family, 1842, p. 166