JAN VAN MIERIS
(Leiden 1660 – 1690 Rome)
An Elegant Lady with a Mirror
Signed and date middle left in the foliage: J. van Mieris/fecit. 16..
oil on panel
9 x 6 ½ inches (22.5 x 16.5 cm.)
Dealer Hermsen (on behalf of Gurlitt), Paris; Exported from France, October, 1943 (Louvre files, as Frans van Mieris); Sale, Tajan, Paris, 15 December 2009, lot 42 (as Willem van Mieris).
Otto Naumann, Frans van Mieris The Elder, 2 vols., Doornspijk 1981, p. 137, cat. B 27, fig. CB 27 (as possibly a collaboration between Frans van Mieris and Willem van Mieris).
Jan van Mieris, the oldest son of Frans van Mieris (1635-1681) and Cunera van der Cocq, was born in Leiden on 17 June 1660. After a short apprenticeship in his father’s studio, the latter, according to Van Gool, decided that Jan should continue his learning with the famous history painter Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711) in Amsterdam. However, Van Gool states, the father finally dropped the idea because of De Lairesse’s immoral way of living. Descamps suggests that Jan did go to De Lairesse’s studio, but was soon called back by his father. In 1684 Jan was witness to the intended marriage of his younger brother Willem van Mieris (1662-1747). In 1688 he was living with his mother at the Oude Vest in Leiden. He must have left for Italy that same year, for a letter he wrote to his mother from Venice is dated 14 January 1689. The letter confirms Jan’s good health. Nevertheless, Jan had not sold any paintings yet and was planning to move on to Florence. Van Gool recalls that he was invited to the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but was sent off for religious reasons. Apparently he then moved on to Rome, where he unexpectedly died on 17 March 1690.
In the present painting a stylish woman looks toward the viewer, leaning over a balustrade, partly covered by an exotic carpet. Her mauve velvet cloak is rendered in the delicate manner that instantly reminds one of Jan’s father Frans. In her left hand the woman holds a luxuriously decorated hand mirror; her right hand is opened toward the viewer, hanging over a balustrade. In front of her stands an opened jewelry box. The Italianate landscape in the background features a large house on the left, mostly hidden behind trees. In the distance a country house is situated on the banks of a lake, behind it rise mountains.
Due to Jan van Mieris’ untimely death, at the age of 29, not many paintings of his hand are known. The rare extant works show that Jan was an ambitious young painter with a considerable and promising talent. This may, for instance, show from the early reproductions after his works made by Amsterdam printmaker and publicist Abraham Blooteling (1640-1690), dating from the second half of the 1680s. One of these prints, Woman with a Purse, counterpart to Man with a Roemer Glass, depicts a young woman very comparable to our Portrait of a Woman holding a Mirror. Dressed in an elegant gown, this woman has turned her head to the viewer in a similar way. She too has a frivolous curl hanging down to her forehead. Like the lady in the present painting, she holds up her left arm, this time dangling a purse. Typically, the arm is molded with the same curved grace as is the case with the woman holding the mirror.
Jan seems to have produced several related women’s portraits. A comparable subject was auctioned in Paris in 1812. It depicted a woman with a mirror, a tapestry and a jewelry box in front of her. However, the painting also included an old woman in the right background. As Peter Hecht points out, only very few paintings can nowadays be attributed to Jan van Mieris and most of the paintings mentioned in old sales catalogues are gone without a trace or turned out to be works by other family members. In the case of Portrait of a Woman holding a Mirror it is the other way around. Before the painting’s recent cleaning and restoration, when Jan’s signature appeared, it was long thought to be by Jan’s father Frans. As such it was catalogued when the painting was exported from France during the Second World War. In his 1981 monograph on Frans van Mieris, Otto Naumann rightly expressed his doubts concerning the attribution and suggested a collaboration between Frans and his youngest son Willem. Next to that, Naumann compares the painting with Frans signed Woman Weeping of nearly the same dimensions. Indeed, the painting features an almost exactly identical tortoise shell coffer and stone balustrade. Further, both women bear the same facial features. Remarkably, this painting also includes an older woman in the right background. While Woman Weeping can be date ca. 1678, Portrait of a Woman holding a Mirror should be dated ca. 1685.
 For biographical details, see E. J. Sluijter et al. (ed.), Leidse Fijnschilders: Van Gerrit dou tot Frans van Mieris de Jonge 1630-1760, exhib. cat., Leiden 1988, pp. 149-151.
 J. Van Gool, De nieuwe Schouburg der Nederlantsche kunstschilders en schilderessen, 2 vols., The Hague 1750-1751, II, p. 442.
 J.B. Descamps, La vie des peintures flamands…, 4 vols., Paris 1753-1764, III (1760), pp. 17-18.
 See also P. Hecht, De Hollandse fijnschilders, exhib. cat., Amsterdam 1989, p. 101.
 F.W.H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and woodcuts. Ca. 1450-1700, Amsterdam 1949-, II, p. 265, nos. 268-269. See also Hecht, op. cit., p. 109, figs. 19-20d, 19-20e.
 Sale, Paris, 30 March – 1 April 1812 (Lugtnr. 8138), lot 72: “ Une Jeune Femme assise devant sa toilette, la gorge à demi découverte, vêtue en satin, et qui semble surprise de voir un papillon qui s’envole. Un miroir, un boëte ouverte, et une fermée, sont places sur un tapis de Turquie, recouvrant, à moitié, une table de marbre. A droite, et dans le fond, une porte ouverte par où l’on voit une vieille feme qui semble mécontente. Ce tableau très-agréable est aussi d’une couleur brillante, et d’une belle harmonie. Sur bois, Hauteur 12 p., larger 10p.’
 Hecht, op. cit., p. 100.
 Frans van Mieris, A Woman Weeping, signed F. Van Mieris, oil on panel, 7.5 x 6 inches, Private Colleciton, Great Britain. See Naumann, 1981, II, n. 115.