Rubenshuis searches for lost Wautiers

April 26 2017

Image of Rubenshuis searches for lost Wautiers

Picture: Rubenshuis

The Rubenshuis museum in Antwerp is putting on an exhibition of Michaelina Wautiers in 2018. It will be the first monograph exhibition to focus on her work. The museum is therefore searching for a number of lost paintings by Wautiers, including the above depiction of a man playing the flute; this work is part of her series of 'five senses', which were last seen in 1975. From the Rubenshuis press release:

The Rubens House is looking for The Five Senses by the seventeenth-century artist Michaelina Wautier. The five individual works on canvas date from 1650 and all (or most) of them are believed to be signed and dated. They share the same dimensions (68 x 58 cm or 70 x 61 cm) and were twice auctioned as a series in Valenciennes (France) in the nineteenth century. The series belonged in 1883 to the collection of a ‘M. de Malherbe’, from which they were sold in 1898 to a certain Jean-Baptiste Foucart. A single black-and-white image of one of the paintings is the only known visual record. It shows a flute-player and was reproduced in a sale catalogue for the Drouot auction house in Paris dated 28 May 1975. There has been no further trace of the five works since then.

According to the nineteenth-century sale catalogues, each canvas depicts one of the five senses. One painting shows a man (or youth) gazing through a pince-nez at a coin in his left hand, representing the sense of sight. A second canvas uses a flute-player wearing a red beret and sitting on a chair to depict ‘hearing’. ‘Smell’ is represented in a third canvas by a boy in a felt hat and a grey shirt, whose disgusted expression tells us that the egg he is about to top has gone bad. The sense of taste is symbolized by a young man with long red hair and a cloak eating a piece of bread. The canvas representing ‘touch’, lastly, features another youth with long black hair, who cuts his thumb while shaping a piece of wood.

More details from the Rubenshuis here. To get an idea of just how talented Wautiers was, you can zoom in her fascinating portrait of Martino Martini, an Italian Jesuit missionary in China, here at the Weiss Gallery. 

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