Pierre Frédéric de La Croix (France 1709 – 1782 The Hague)
Johan Hendrik de Vlieger and Anna Catharina van Royen with their Daughter Maria Cornelia
Executed c. 1768
Pastel, 380 x 540 mm (15 x 21.3 inch)
By descent from the sitters through the Van Royen family, until sold from a private collection, The Netherlands, 2014
Pierre Frédéric de La Croix was born in France in 1709 but moved to The Netherlands at young age, where he was known as Pieter Frederik.1 He appears to have been self-taught as an artist, and specialized in portraits in pastel, a medium which became hugely popular during the eighteenth century. In 1753 he registered with the artists’ society Confrerie Pictura in The Hague. Susanna, the daughter of De La Croix, married Jan van Os (1744–1808), one of the leading still-life painters in The Netherlands. Like some artists before him, most famously Hendrick Avercamp, De La Croix was deaf-mute – this may well have increased his capacities for visual observation.
The elegant pastel portraits by De La Croix were so much in demand among fashionable Dutch society that around 400 of them have survived. Most of his sitters are from the affluent bourgeoisie of Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, but in 1755 he also drew a charming portrait of the young Willem V, Prince of Orange-Nassau (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; see fig.).2 Occasionally De La Croix added attributes referring to the professions or interests of his subjects, for instance musical instruments in his portraits of five children of the Bouricius family.3 The majority of his pastels are of single sitters; occassionally a mother and child or two siblings are depicted together, but three figures as in the present work are exceptional in his oeuvre and the unusual arrangement may have been requested by the sitters. De La Croix did however produce a group portrait of the family of Daniel Crommelin, one of his few works in oil, where husband and wife are accompanied by their five children in an interior.4
This enchanting pastel depicts Johan Hendrik de Vlieger (1724–1806) and his wife, Anna Catharina née van Royen (1736–1783), together with their infant daughter Maria Cornelia de Vlieger (1767–1779), being handed a doll by her mother. Husband and wife are seated on chairs of Louis XV style against a background of wallpaper or fabric hangings decorated with a simple floral pattern. Johan Hendrik is seated near the window, with state-of-the-art narrow glazing bars – the red bricks are well observed, as is the ink stand with the feather quill and the letter in his hand.
Johan and Anna had married in 1766, around two years before the execution of this evocative portrait of a happy young family, an glimpse into eighteenth-century family life. Johan Hendrik de Vlieger was born in Brouwershaven and settled in Utrecht, where he practised as a lawyer. The De Vliegers must have been pleased by De La Croix, as the artist also made individual portraits of Johan Hendrik and Anna Catharina, dated 1768; in these, Johan Hendrik wears a blue coat and holds a watch, yet the facial features are near-identical to those in the present group portrait (see last fig.).5 Sitters sometimes commissioned several versions of a portrait, which could be presented to family and friends. The unusual intimacy of our pastel however suggests it must have been made for their own private enjoyment.
1. For the artist, see: A. Dunning, 'Autour de cinq portraits d'enfants musiciens; contribution a l'iconographie musicale des Pays-Bas au 18e siècle', Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 4 (1985), pp. 453-63 and Saur Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Munich 1992-, vol. 22, p. 394.
2. Pastel, 319 x 255 mm; inv. no. RP-T-00-1829.
3. Dunning, op. cit., figs. 2-6.
4. Private collection; R.P.J. Tutein Nolthenius, Het geslacht Nolthenius, Tutein Nolthenius, Haarlem 1914, p. 787, repr. p. 669.
5. Pastel, both 325 x 255 mm, private collection.Request more information »