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Frans Wouters
Lot No. 29 
Frans Wouters
  • Frans Wouters
  • Frans Wouters
  • Frans Wouters

Frans Wouters

(Lier 1612–1659 Antwerp)
An Allegory of Sight,
oil on panel, 56.5 x 89.2 cm, framed

Gemäldesalon Josef Kuba, Karlsbad;
1935 sold to Cesar Adda (1878-1939), Egypt;
with Rodolfo Monfredini;
1951 sold to Artaki Gurjian, Egypt;
Private European collection

This painting must originally have been part of a series representing the Five Senses, of which have been found, in addition to the Allegory of Sight under consideration here, those of Taste (see lot 28) and Touch (see lot 30). In the past attributed to Jan Brueghel the Younger, the three Allegories are now considered autograph works by the Flemish artist Frans Wouters.

In the present painting, the Allegory of Sight is represented primarily by the woman regarding herself in the mirror, alluding to a deeper level of interpretation – the theme of vanity – also evoked by the still life painting depicted on the right. The variety of precious objects, scientific instruments, paintings and sculptures that enrich the room, which itself becomes a ‘cabinet of wonders’, represents the multiplicity of visual perception and man's desire to take possession of the things he sees by understanding them. The world map in the foreground also serves this end, allowing man to observe and thus know distant worlds. The monkey in the foreground of the painting on the floor on the other hand, represents the lowest, most superficial level of seeing, limited to staring at things without really being able to understand them: the animal uses two pairs of spectacles but to no avail. In the painting propped in front of the still life at the bottom right, we can recognise a reference by Wouters to a work by his master Rubens, the Mars and Rhea Silvia today in the Liechtenstein Collection in Vienna.

Lots 28–30
Three Allegories of the Senses by Frans Wouters

Frans Wouters was apprenticed in the workshop of Peter Van Avont in Antwerp, afterwards he became a student of Rubens in 1634 – the same year he joined the Guild of St. Luke, of which he later became dean. His talent led him to hold prestigious positions: first of all the appointment as court painter in Vienna to Emperor Ferdinand II, who sent him to England as ambassador in 1637. There, the artist met his compatriot Anthony Van Dyck and came into contact with the Prince of Wales, the future King Charles II, who became one of his patrons. In 1648, he was appointed court painter by the Regent Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, governor of Flanders. Wouters was able to transpose the grandiloquent manner of his great master Rubens to small compositions marked by a detailed and decorative style, expressed above all in landscape painting and graceful mythological or allegorical scenes. This kind of cabinet painting, of which Wouters was one of the most popular exponents, was intended to decorate – and in a sense to complete, in an iconographical sense – the so-called Wunderkammer (‘room of wonders’) popular in European courts at the time, in which all sorts of curiosities, wonders, rare items, or made with rare materials, both naturalia and artificialia, were collected - everything embracing any field of human knowledge or nature.

Linked to this multifaceted approach to reality was the extraordinary appreciation from international patrons with regard to cabinet paintings showing themes associated with alchemy, the four elements and all the iconography that lent itself to different levels of interpretation with a number of references and allusions, of devices such as the ‘picture within a picture’ like in a game of Chinese boxes, and the Allegories of the Five Senses, which were enormously popular in the seventeenth century, especially in Flanders. For painters, the point of reference for this type of subject were the five panels of the Allegory of the Senses painted from 1617 by Pieter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder for the King of Spain, now preserved in the Museo del Prado. In those same years, Brueghel had led a group of artists in creating a pair of paintings of similar subjects, respectively depicting the Allegories of Taste, Hearing and Touch, and the Allegories of Sight and Smell, acquired in 1618 by the City of Antwerp and donated to the Grand Duke Albrecht and his wife Isabella. These two works were destroyed in a fire in the eighteenth century, but probably due to the success of this type of representation, in collaboration with other artists, Brueghel painted replicas of the two groups of Allegories, and these were taken to Madrid by Isabella of Bourbon by 1636, where they appear in the collections of the royal residence, and are currently conserved – like the series of the Five Senses – in the Museo del Prado. Frans Wouters certainly would have seen all these models, and drawn from them, but also adding his own iconographic variants.

Specialist: Mark MacDonnell

Frans Wouters
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  • estimate
    EUR 50,000 to 70,000
    USD 57,000 to 80,000

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Old Master Paintings
Date: 19.04.2016, 17:00
Location: Palais Dorotheum Vienna
Exhibition: 09.04. - 19.04.2016

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