(The Hague 1839 - 1917 London)
The Veiled Lady, 1885-87
Oil on canvas, 61.5 x 36 cm
Signed with monogram MM centre right
Probably acquired directly from the artist by Percy Westmacott (1830-1917), Barnwell;
London, Christie’s, auction sale, May 10, 1918, no. 58 (Percy Westmacott Sale);
Mrs. A. J. Cohen Stuart, London, by 1918;
Amsterdam, Christie’s, auction sale, April 26, 1995, lot 274;
Private collection, The Netherlands.
Matthijs Maris, London, The French Gallery, 1917, no. 14A;
Matthew Maris: An Illustrated Souvenir, London, The French Gallery, 1917-18, no. 22;
Maris Tentoonstelling, The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, December 1935-February 1936 and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, February 1936-March 1936, no. 198;
Matthijs Maris, The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, August-October 1939, no. 29;
on loan from a private collector, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, February 1996-December 1999.
D. Croal Thomson et al, Matthew Maris: An Illustrated Souvenir, exhib. cat., London, The French Gallery, 1918, fig. 22;
Hendrik Enno van Gelder, Matthijs Maris, Amsterdam 1939, pp. 51-52;
Jong Holland, 2001, XVII, no. 4, p. 18, illustrated;
Leen Veerman, Matthijs Maris: Ongeschikt voor andermans paden, Eindhoven 2013, p. 134;Richard Bionda, Matthijs Maris, exhib. cat., Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2017, p. 222, no. 64A, illustrated.
Born the son of a book printer in the Dutch city of The Hague in 1839, Matthijs Maris was encouraged to draw at home by his father, as were his brothers Jacob and Willem. The latter eventually became celebrated members of the Hague School, a group of painters associated with Dutch realism. Matthijs had a somewhat negative outlook on life and took a dim view of contemporary art in particular. However, this did not stop him pursuing an international career. Although talented, he was unsociable, rarely satisfied and hypersensitive to criticism, which occasionally resulted in him immediately destroying his work. He preferred to live a life of independence and frugality rather than bow to the expectations of collectors and art dealers. His creative talent, bold experimentation, eccentric lifestyle and idiosyncratic paintings were a source of inspiration to young artists. Seeing Maris as an anti-establishment artist and lifelong advocate of artistic freedom, they celebrated him as a pioneer of Symbolism. Towards the end of his life Matthijs’ works earned him international renown and commanded record-breaking prices, but this did little to alter the secluded life he lived in his London studio.1
Having taken drawing lessons at the drawing academy in The Hague from 1852 to 1855, Maris continued his education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp from 1855 to 1858. His fellow students there were impressed by his talent and considered him the most intellectual of their number. He eventually came to admire German Romantic art, especially the work of Ludwig Richter.
In 1858 Maris returned to The Hague, where he and his brothers tried to make a living as artists. The meagre income they earned left them with no choice but to move back into their parents’ home. In 1860 Matthijs and his brother Jacob travelled to Germany, Switzerland and France. In the years that followed, the works Matthijs offered to collectors or displayed at exhibitions were subjected to harsh criticism. This embittered him and made him even more withdrawn. In view of the miserable situation confronting the brothers, Jacob decided in 1865 to leave The Hague for Paris, where the international art dealers, Goupil & Cie, were among those who bought his paintings. In 1869 Jacob persuaded Matthijs to join him in Paris.
While Matthijs enjoyed the city, he disliked the paintings his brother was making for the art market. When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Matthijs joined the National Guard. Jacob returned to the Netherlands after the war, but Matthijs decided to stay in France. The strained financial circumstances he found himself in boosted his productivity. Although Maris’ work ultimately enjoyed recognition and he numbered Goupil among his clients, he was discontented with the paintings he produced, for the most part depictions of young women and views of the city, later disdainfully describing them as ‘potboilers’. The young Vincent van Gogh, who greatly admired Maris’ work, asked if he might train under the artist, but his request fell on deaf ears. The London-based designer and art dealer, Daniel Cottier, the main purchaser of Maris’ work, persuaded the disgruntled painter to leave Paris for London in 1877.
In London, Cottier offered Maris lodging, bought some of his works and secured him various commissions, such as designing stained glass windows, chandeliers and tiles. The artist was inspired by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and James McNeil Whistler. Maris and Cottier had diverging expectations of their cooperation, however, and this cast a shadow on their relationship over the years. Maris felt he had insufficient freedom to paint what he wanted. The London-based Dutch art dealer, Elbert Jan van Wisselingh, and his fiancée were only too willing to lend Maris their support, offering him an income and lodging so that he could concentrate on his work. Unfortunately, the artist lacked any great application during the latter part of his life. The Scottish art collector, William Burrell, purchased most of the later works he produced in England. Following Maris’ death in 1917, English and Dutch newspapers praised his talent, confirmed his reputation and hailed the significance of his work.2
Between 1885 and 1887, before the end of his collaboration with Cottier, Maris made two paintings and a drawing of a veiled lady: the present work, another slightly smaller version depicting the lady to the left (Fig. 1) and a chalk drawing (Fig. 2). Maris later described them as works he had painted secretly, ‘eating from the forbidden fruit’.3 His friend, the art collector Percy Westmacott, initially acquired both oil paintings. They were shown at the memorial exhibition to Maris staged at The French Gallery in London in 1917.
For The Veiled Lady Maris experimented with innovative painting techniques designed to produce novel visual effects. His purpose was to create the impression that the very thin layers of paint he had applied were translucent and immaterial. He later removed some of the layers, thereby creating an effect which came to be described as ‘breathed upon the canvas’. The visible structure of the canvas also played an important role in eliciting this effect.
The female figure emerges ghost-like from the dark, her lengthy veil blurring the outlines of her elongated body. A lack of clarity also surrounds her identity. Some considered her to be Goethe’s Gretchen, an attribution quite en vogue at the time the work was produced – thanks to Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, which had been premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, in 1863. Since the wedding of the artist’s close friends, the van Wisselinghs, took place at this time, the figure has also been identified as a bride. To mark the marriage Maris gave the pair another painting entitled Fantasy. Showing a couple set against a similarly dark background, it serves as a warning to the newly-weds of the vicissitudes of life. The Symbolist movement contrasts the bride, the embodiment of the spiritual and the innocent, the femme fragile, with her counterpart, the femme fatale, representing the sensual and Dionysian. The Veiled Lady has also been interpreted as a novice. On several occasions Maris expressed his disapproval of public attempts to analyse the deeper meaning of this work.4
1 Richard Bionda, Matthijs Maris, exhib. cat., Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2017, pp. 13-60.
2 Leen Veerman, Matthijs Maris: Ongeschikt voor andermans paden, Eindhoven 2013.
3 Richard Bionda, Matthijs Maris, exhib. cat., Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2017, p. 221.