An Urchin mocking an Old Woman eating Migas
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1617 - Seville 1682)
An old woman sits in the foreground, jealously guarding the humble food that she’s eating. Behind her is a young boy, who mockingly directs our attention to her. The painting may have been purchased by William I Blathwayt (?1649–1717), perhaps from his uncle Thomas Povey (1613/14–c.1705), from whom he bought many of his pictures. Alternatively, it may have been acquired through the Flemish artist Jan Siberchts (1627–1703), who seems to have acted as a dealer for Blathwayt. If this Murillo did form part of William I Blathwayt’s collection, it would have been one of the earliest paintings by the Spanish artist to enter an English collection. It was included in a large sale of paintings from Dyrham Park in 1765, held to satisfy the debts of Blathwayt’s grandson. It seems to have been bought by another member of the Blathwayt family, who returned it to Dyrham at a later point.
Oil painting on canvas, An Urchin mocking an Old Woman eating Migas, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1617 - Seville 1682), circa 1660-65. An old peasant woman, dressed in a long red skirt and a grubby white shawl, drawn over her head, is seated on the ground at the right. She holds a bowl of migas, or crumbs, in her left hand and a spoon in her right, and appears to be guarding the migas for herself. On the left is a dog, sitting by a basket and a jug, and behind the dog is a young peasant boy, who looks out at the viewer and points towards the old woman with his right hand, resting his elbow on a stone. Behind them in the background are rocks and trees.
Oil painting on canvas, An Urchin mocking an Old Woman eating Migas, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1617 - Seville 1682), circa 1660-65. Murillo's paintings of urchins and beggar-boys had no real native, and few foreign, precursors, and form but a small part of his substantial oeuvre.(i) Yet before the Peninsular War brought large numbers of his works on the market in the early 19th century, they and his Madonnas were the subjects by which he was best known in northern Europe. Indeed they seem to have been originally painted almost entirely for a foreign clientele.(ii) The earliest of these pictures, the 'Street Urchin looking for a Flea' (Louvre), is generally dated to circa 1645-50.(iii) As the subject (a boy delousing himself) indicates, Murillo began by depicting the street children of his native Seville with an unblinking naturalism, employing a sombre palette and strong chiaroscuro. The main group, to which the present picture belongs, was executed between about 1660 and about 1680. In these pictures, the mood is generally more cheerful, with smiling boys eating or playing dice. The compositions usually consist of two or three figures, often arranged in a pyramidal form and psychologically contrasted, with a dog, a wicker or straw basket, and an earthenware water jug. They were painted in Murillo's later, more airy 'estilo vaporosso'. This picture is unusual in that it combines the boy with an adult, who is eating crumbs, or migas, and in that the boy directly addresses the spectator. This may suggest that it was intended to exemplify some Spanish proverb. It is also the only composition of which there is a second - either autograph or studio - version (in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).(iv) As Angulo Iñiguez has argued, these pictures were probably not just bought, but commissioned, by Netherlandish merchants doubling as picture dealers and collectors.(v) A key figure must have been Nicolàs Omazur (1609-1691 or after), an Antwerp silk-merchant and poet, who was painted by Murillo (Museo del Prado), was left two small pictures in his will, and had Murillo's Self-Portrait (National Gallery, London) engraved after his death.(vi) Another must have been Josua van Belle (circa 1635-1710), a Rotterdam merchant trading with Seville, whose portrait was also painted by Murillo (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), and whose collection still contained a painting of this character, when it was sold in 1730.(vii) Versions of Murillo's urchin pictures reached Britain via Flanders at an early date. At Dunster Caster in Somerset and Kingston Lacy in Dorset (both National Trust), there are copies of the 'Two Urchins eating Melon and Grapes' (once owned by the Antwerp Postmaster, J. B. Anthoine [died 1691], now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich) that, with a greater or lesser degree of certainty, go back to the 17th century. This suggests either that the original was within these shores before it passed to Anthoine, or that copies were supplied to England from Antwerp. The Kingston Lacy painting is arguably the first by or after Murillo to be recorded in Britain. For it was bought by Ralph Bankes by 1658/9 from a Mr Matthewes, who seems to have been a dealer specialising in Netherlandish paintings, to judge by the other five pictures that Bankes had from him.(viii) The original of the 'Two Urchins eating Melon and Grapes' is dated variously to between 1645 and 1655 (xi), so Ralph Bankes was getting a brand-new copy of a newly minted picture. The present picture might have been a similarly early import, but of an autograph work. Who might the importer have been? In 1693 William I Blathwayt (?1649-1717) bought eighteen itemised pictures, some Antwerp-related, from the painter Jan Siberechts.(x) The Murillo was not among them, but he might have acquired it in another transaction from the same source. Alternatively, he may have obtained it by purchase or bequest from his uncle, the even greater connoisseur and collector, Thomas Povey (1613/14-circa 1705).(xi) Perhaps significantly in this context, Povey was involved with the colonies, trade and Tangier (the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar to Seville) during his active years, and then and afterwards was known for his stylish way of living and collections. John Evelyn called him 'a nice contriver of all Elegancies'.(xii) On 8 November 1693 Povey sold his nephew £500-worth of books and pictures (mostly family portraits and 'small peeces').(xiii) In 1700 another Povey, William Blathwayt's nephew John, wrote to old Thomas Povey to describe Dyrham inside and out, not only tactfully letting fall that 'in these several Apartments your pictures have a Great share in the Decoration' (xiv), but also telling him that it had been impossible to find a place where Povey's 'Great Perspective' (the 'Perspective View of the Courtyard of a House' by Samuel van Hoogstraten) would work its full illusionistic effect. This clearly indicates that there had been some second transaction, which included the two architectural perspectives by Hoogstraten and perhaps this Murillo. The picture was included in the third day of a sale held at the house on 18-21 November 1765, which had been forced on William III Blathwayt (1719-1787) by his creditors.(xv) However, his younger brother, General Wynter Blathwayt (1729-1806), appears to have bought it, so that it remained in the family, if not the house. Two other pictures of similar subjects ascribed to Murillo made a more permanent departure from Dyrham at this sale, as lots 16 and 33 on the same day: 'Two Boys and a Black Boy, by Murelli' and 'Two Boys and a Fox, by Murelli'. These must have been the earlier replicas or copies of the two pictures now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which have themselves been in England since at least the 17th century.(xvi) The copy of the present painting also at Dyrham was made not from it, but probably either from the variant now in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne (xvii), or from the copy of that belonging to the Duke of Wellington (xviii). It was probably acquired as a substitute for the original some time during its period of absence from the house following the 1765 sale. The Cologne and Wellington versions were not available for copying in England until the 19th century, which alone would be enough to dispose of the tenacious myth that Gainsborough came out to Dyrham from Bath to make this copy, as he died in 1788.(xix) The picture in any case has none of the characteristics of his copies of Old Masters.(xx) We know, however, that Gainsborough did copy and own paintings then attributed to Murillo, but all these were of religious subjects.(xxi) There is no record of his ever copying one of Murillo's studies of urchins and beggar-children, even though these were clearly the major influence on his own pictures of 'Cottage Children', as well as on certain of the fancy pictures of Sir Joshua Reynolds.(xxii) Notes: i) Diego Angulo Iñiguez, Murillo, Madrid, 1981, vol.I, pp.203-4 & 441-57; and Angulo Iñiguez in exh. cat. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1983, p.26. ii) None is recorded in Seville before the mid-18th century and Palomino makes no mention of them in his life of the artist (El museo pictórico y escala óptica, vol.II, pt.3: El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado, Madrid , transl. Nina Ayala Mallory, Cambridge, 1987, pp.280-86). He says only that Murillo 'did many paintings for private houses, but very few of them remain, for foreigners have taken advantage of the opportunities offered by these calamitous times to take them out of Spain'. He had already said that Murillo's strength in 'colour' rather than 'drawing' made him more sought after even than Titian or Van Dyck outside Spain, since that was what laymen responded to most. iii) Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, no.390; vol.II, pp.303-4; vol.III, col.pl.428 iv) Inv.2541; Brigitte Klesse, Katalog der italienischen, französischen und spanischen Gemälde bis 1800 im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1973, pp.89-91, pl.84; Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, vol.II, p.309 (as possible studio replica). v) Of the five such pictures in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, two appear to have been acquired by the Elector Max Emanuel when he was Statthalter of the Spanish Netherlands: one from the estate of the Antwerp Postmaster, J.B. Anthoine (died 1691), the other in a group of 101 pictures that he bought in 1698 from Gisbert van Colen, a merchant who dealt in every sort of goods throughout Europe (Ulla Krempel, Max Emmanuel als Gemäldesammler, in Hubert Glaser, ed., Kurfürst Max Emmanuel: Bayern und Europa um 1700, Munich, 1976, vol.I, pp.221-38, esp.222-3, 224, 236, 237 n.28); one came from the Mannheim Gallery, which was a collection of primarily Netherlandish paintings put together by the Elector Palatine Carl III Philip (1661-1742) and his successor Carl Theodor (1724-1799); the other two were bought by the Elector Max III Joseph of Bavaria from the estate of the Munich Privy Councillor Franz Joseph von Dufresne in 1768. vi) Neil MacLaren and Allan Braham, National Gallery Catalogues: The Spanish School, 1970, repr.1988, pp.71-4, esp.n.4; Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, no.416, vol.II, pp.326-7; vol.III, col.pl.464; exh.cat.cit., 1983, no.63 vii) Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, vol.I, p.144; vol.II, no.406, pp.314-15; vol.III, pl.462; exh.cat.cit, 1983, no.62. viii) It is named in the second and third of the lists of his small collection of pictures at Gray's Inn, which Bankes drew up in 1658/9 and on 23 December 1659, respectively (Alastair Laing, 'Sir Peter Lely and Sir Ralph Bankes', in Art and Patronage in the Caroline Courts, ed. David Howarth, Cambridge, 1993, pp.122 & 123). In the first it is listed simply as: '2 Boyes Eating Grapes on a large knee Cloth', valued surprisingly high, at £15. In the second, it is a little more expansively called: '2 Spanish Boyes Eating Grapes A Coppy mr matthewes £15.00.00' - still without any artist's name, but with the name of the vendor. ix) Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, no.388; vol.II, pp.302-3; vol.III, col.pl.440 x) Bill in the Dyrham archives, Gloucester Record Office xi) For Povey, see Gertrude Jacobson, William Blathwayt, New Haven, 1932, esp. pp.43-9; Dictionary of National Biography entry by Edward Irving Carlyle; and Robert Latham and William Matthews, eds., The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1970-1983, vol.X, pp.344-5 xii) Entry for 29 February 1676. Cf. The Diary of John Evelyn, ed. E.S. de Beer, Oxford, 1955, vol.IV, p.84. See also the entry for 1 July 1664 (vol.III, p.375). xiii) Dyrham archives, Gloucester Record Office, D1799/E247 xiv) Dyrham archives, Gloucester Record Office, D1799/E240, letter from Whitehall, dated 5 December 1700, quoted in Dyrham Park [National Trust], 1981, pp.57-8 xv) The only copy of the catalogue is in the British Library (S.C.1360); it is not listed in Lugt. Tentatively dated to 1717 in the Library's catalogue, the true date was established by Owen Justice from a payment in the Methuen archives for the portrait of 'Elizabeth I and Death' mentioned as at Dyrham by George Vertue. xvi) Peter Murray, The Dulwich Picture Gallery: A Catalogue, 1980, p.85 and pl.; exh.cat.cit., nos.67, 68. These were the 'boyes of Morella the Spaniard' which were bought by Sidney, 1st Earl of Godolphin (1645-1712) at the sale of the sequestered pictures of the exiled John, 1st Earl/Duke of Melfort (1649-1714), at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, on 22 June 1693, for '80 ginnies, deare enough', as recorded by Evelyn (de Beer, ed., 1955, vol.V, p.145 and n.2: entry for 21 June 1693). They were lots 58 and 59 in the belated sale at Christie's of the pictures from Godolphin House on 6 June 1803, when they were bought by Baker and George Augustus Wallis, respectively, acting - or so the auctioneer thought - on the instructions of the 3rd Earl of Egremont. Whatever happened, they must soon have been sold on, since they feature in Desanfans's insurance list of 6 July 1804. By coincidence, what were probably the copies from the Dyrham sale of 1765 remained obstinately unsold in the running sale by contract at the so-called European Museum between at least June 1803 and December 1806. xvii) First discovered by Captain Edward Davies in the collection of Don Manuel de Leyra in Cadiz in 1809 (The Life of Bartolomé E. Murillo, 1819, pp.xciv, 97n.). xix) The story was apparently first published by G. W. Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., 1856, vol.2, p.240, claiming that: '"some years prior to 1787", says Col. Blathwayt, "my grandfather, William Blathwayt, requested Gainsborough to make a copy of a picture by Murillo, in the possession of General Blathwayte — its subject ... [descr.]. Gainsborough has made such an excellent copy, that the original has often been disputed. Both pictures are now at Dyrham Park"'. xx) There is a firm letter to this effect from Ellis Waterhouse to Ralph [?Edwards], dated 2 July 1958, in the National Trust archives. xxi) He copied 'Abraham and Isaac', then belonging to the Cartwrights of Aynho, Northamptonshire (Angulo Iñiguez, 1981, no.90; vol.II, p.101; vol.III, pl.52; Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, reprinted 1966, p.125, no.1024). He owned the 'St John the Baptist in the Wilderness' (National Gallery), now given to a follower (McLaren and Braham, 1970, pp.80-81). xxii) Ellis Waterhouse, 'Murillo and Eighteenth-century Painting outside Spain', in exh.cat., Murillo, 1983, pp.70-71, fig.75. [Adapted from Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh.cat., National Gallery, London, 1995, no.53, pp.143-5 and 212-13]
Thought to have been acquired by William Blathwayt (?1649-1717), either by purchase or bequest from Thomas Povey, or by purchase from Jan Siberechts; sold on the third day of the Dyrham Park sale, 18-21 November 1765, lot 34, possibly to General Wynter Blathwayt (1729-1806), by whom it is thought to have been left to Lt-Col George William Blathwayt (1797-1871); thence by descent; Purchased by the Ministry of Works through the National Land Fund and transferred to the National Trust for Dyrham Park in 1956
Dyrham Park, The Blathwayt Collection (acquired by the Ministry of Works via the National Land Fund in 1956, and transferred to the National Trust)
Makers and roles
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1617 - Seville 1682), artist
Murillo IV Centenario, Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, Sevilla Spain, 2018 - 2019
Murillo: Scenes of Childhood, Xanthe Brooke & Peter Cherry, Dulwich Picture Gallery 2001, pp.108-9, cat.no.14 In Trust for the Nation: Paintings from National Trust Houses (exh cat) (Alastair Laing) The National Gallery, London, 22 November 1995 - 10 March 1996, cat. 53, pp.143-5 and nn.pp.212-3 Fulcher 1856 George Williams Fulcher, Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., London, 1856 , p. 240 Gonse 1882 L. Gonse, 'Exposition de maitres anciens a la "Royal Academy" de Londres', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol.XXV (March 1882), pp. 288-91 Curtis 1883: C. B. Curtis, Velazquez and Murillo, London, 1883 Mayer 1923 A. Mayer, Klassiker der Kunst:Murillo, 2nd edn., Stuttgart, 1923, pl.p.208 & p.293 Klesse 1973 Brigitte Klesse, Katalog der italienischen, französischen und spanischen Gemälde bis 1800 im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1973, p.90 Angulo Iñiguez 1981 Diego Angulo Iñiguez, Murillo, (3 vols) Madrid, 1981 , vol.I, p.451; vol.II: Catalogo Critico, no.400, pp.308—9 & vol.III, pl.449 Bartolomé Esteban Murillo 1617-1682, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 8 October - 12 December,1982 and Royal Academy of Arts, London, 15 January - 27 March,1983, p.45 & fig.41 Rivero and Rubio 2018: Ignacio Cano Rivero and María del Valme Muñoz Rubio (eds.), Murillo IV Centenario (ex. cat.), Seville: Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla and Consejería de Cultura, 2018., pp. 319-321; 495-496