A Boy And His Horse, of course, of course

May 29 2013, 5:22pm

Carlton Hobbs LLC This portrait of a boy and his horse, signed and dated 1646, is the work of the Dutch Golden Age painter Herman Mijnerts Doncker (c. 1620-1656). He was active in Haarlem from circa 1633-1640, where he entered the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1634. Afterward, Doncker resided in the small, but wealthy, port town of Enkhuisen where he made a living painting portraits, for which he is most well-known, and experimented with Acadian scenes for paintings of biblical or mythological subjects.   Figure 1 In the present portrait, a boy holds the reigns of his horse, which stands beside him, mid-piaffe. Both child and animal have a charming, youthful disposition and each seem to be slightly smiling. “Portraits of young boys standing next to miniature horses are extremely rare and were only painted in this area [of Holland], particularly in the town of Enkhuizen.”1 A portrait of a boy with miniature horse painted in 1609 by the earliest known Enkhuizen painter, Jan Claesz, can be seen in figure 1 (Collectie Portret van Enkhuizen, Stichting Verzameling Semeijns de Vries van Doesburgh), while another example, painted in 1618 by an artist in the circle of Claesz (Collection of the Weiss Gallery, London), is illustrated in figure 2.   Figure 2 Although many times artists collaborated on portraits, with one paining the sitter and another executing the landscape, Doncker took up the task of adding the landscape himself,2 often in an Italianate style with architectural ruins in the background. In fact, during his years in Enkhuisen he “developed his own idiom [in portraiture] of Italianate landscapes integrated with gigantic figures placed in front of a low horizon.”3 In the context of these size differences in the present portrait, “it is almost a visual joke.”4 The horizon is so low that the landscape architecture does not even reach the boy’s waist, and the two horsemen in the background appear so tiny between the hind legs of the horse, as they would be seen through an inverted magnifying glass.5 Portrait of Laurens or Gerrit Jansz van Loosen, painted by Doncker circa 1645 (Town Hall, Gemeente Enkhuizen) employs the same treatment of the landscape and positioning of the subject in the foreground as seen in the present portrait (figure 3), perspective which earned the van Loosen painting the nickname “’giant on an anthill.”4   Figure 3 This spatial imbalance is less pronounced in Doncker’s family groups. In Portrait of a married couple with three children and a sailing ship in the background, signed and dated 1645 (figure 4), the parents and children, who are similarly dressed to the boy in the present painting, stand in a landscape which fills the more of the vertical space. Figure 4 A Dutch Family Group in a Garden, circa 1650, attributed to Doncker and currently in the collection of the National Trust at Borrowdale, Cumbria (figure 5), portrays a large family and further testifies to Donckers versatility in terms of composition. Figure 5