Simon Kick (Delft 1603 – 1652 Amsterdam)
A Lady at her Toilette
Oil on panel, 36.5 x 30 cm (14.4 x 11.8 inch); contained in a dark stained ripple frame of 17th-century model
Private collection, Germany; private collection, The Netherlands
A scene of extreme intimacy: a lady is combing her hair, while a woman servant applies pearls and ribbons to the coiffure. Dressed in rich silks and satins, their texture marvellously depicted by the painter, the lady glances at herself in a mirror placed on a table, on which her fur-trimmed jacket is casually draped. The light colours of her garments, combined with her delicate complexion and fair hair, make her the focal point of the composition. The concentrated gaze of the servant is beautifully captured. The two figures bathe in a gentle light, while the rest of the room is painted in a darker palette: behind the servant we can observe a high chair, on which a silver pitcher and dish are placed, with a white linen towel providing a visual counterpart to the draped jacket. A poster bed with dark curtains is positioned against a simple wall, on which hangs a portrait, or possibly ‘tronie’, in a dark ebony frame. Such intimate genre pieces were highly favoured during the Golden Age, and is indeed what the century became most fabled for. As will be discussed below, this confidently painted work is one of the earliest extant examples of a Golden Age ‘toilette’ painting.
This delicate panel is a masterpiece by the rare and mysterious Simon Kick, who was born in Delft as the son of the lacquer worker Willem Kick and Anna de Brey.1 It is not known where he received his artistic training: it might have been in his native Delft, or in Amsterdam, where he was living by 1631 and spent the rest of his career. On 5 September 1631 Kick posted the banns of his forthcoming marrigate to Christina or Stijntge Duyster, the sister of the genre painter Willem Duyster (1599–1635), who may in fact have been his teacher. On the same day, Willem Duyster gave notice of his own forthcoming marriage to Margrieta Kick, Simon’s sister – a double wedding. After their simultaneous marriages, both couples lived in a house called the 'Duystere Werelt' (the Dark World), where both painters had their studio.
Kick is one of the very few artists from the Dutch Golden Age to have visited North America – possibly the only one.2 In 1635 he travelled across the Atlantic to collect a debt owed to his brother-in-law, Dirck Cornelisz, the sibling of his wife and of Duyster. As Kick’s earliest dated painting is of 1637, it has been suggested that he started his painting career quite late. Most of his known works are thought to date from the years around 1640. As he died relatively young, he only had some ten to fifteen active years as a painter – if he had lived longer, he might have grown into a much more known artist than he is today. Kick is praised for his painting of figures, especially his ‘unique ability to characterize his figures in a manner which captivates the viewer’,3 having also been called a ‘great minor master’.4 The refined use of chiaroscuro betrays an awareness of the overwhelming artisticg personality of Rembrandt in Amsterdam during the 1640s, yet in Kick’s oeuvre has found an entirely personal application.
The present painting can also be dated to this period, based on stylistic grounds and on the basis of the depicted clothing. It is therefore one of the very earliest known depictions of a ‘toilette’ scene in Dutch art, a theme which grew very fashionable in the following decades, especially popularised by painters such as Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681) and Jan Steen (1625/26–1679). One of Ter Borch’s earliest toilette representations is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and is dated 1650/51. It was painted some years after our work by Kick, and it could be argued it shows an awareness of Kick’s composition (fig.).5 Ter Borch lived in Amsterdam during the 1640s and his painting in the Metropolitan is often considered one of the earliest examples of genre pieces of Holland’s civilised elite, which dominated the second half of the seventeenth century.6 Our painting, however, pre-dates Ter Borch by some five to ten years. The nonchalance of the casually draped fur-trimmed jacket in our painting is exceptional for the period; again, such garments were frequently depicted by Ter Borch and Vermeer. The theme of the toilette reached its culmination in the works of Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), for instance in his Lady at her Toilette of c.1662-65 in Berlin (fig.).7
Kick specialised in genre paintings, mostly of guardroom interiors. Only a small number of elegant genre scenes such as the present work are known by him. All in all, only some thirty to forty paintings by his hand are known today.8 In terms of iconography, the most related painting by Kick is his Lady Combing her Hair, preserved in the Leipzig Museum.9 Other works by Kick are in some of the world’s other leading museums, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland and the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen.
1. For the artist, see J. Rosen, ‘A Great Minor Master: The Robbery by Simon Kick in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie. With an Appendix including a complete catalogue of paintings by Simon Kick (1603-1652)’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, Neue Folge 49 (2007), pp. 85-98.
2. Abraham Bredius, ‘Iets over Pieter Codde en Willem Duyster’, Oud Holland, 6, 1888, p. 192 and Rosen, op. cit., p. 92.
3. Rosen, op. cit., p. 92.
4. Rosen, op. cit., p. 94.
5. Oil on panel, 47.6 x 34.6 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (given by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1917), inv. no. 17.190.10; S. Gudlaugsson, Katalog der Gemälde Gerard ter Borchs sowie biographisches Material, vol. I, p. 240, fig. 80, vol. II, pp. 98-99, no. 80.
6. A Wheelock, Gerard ter Borch, exh. cat. Washington (National Gallery of Art) and Detroit (Institute of Art), 2004, p. 84.
7. Oil on canvas, 51.2 x 45.1 cm, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. 912B; Walter Liedtke, Vermeer: the complete paintings, Ghent 2008, cat. no. 18, pp. 115-17.
8. Rosen, op. cit., listed 33 works known in 2007.
9. Oil on panel, 55 x 41 cm, signed and dated ‘SKick 1648’, Museum der bildende Künste, Leipzig, inv. no. 1036; Dietulf Sander, Leipzig: Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig 1995, p. 95, repr.