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Essay – Gabriel Metsu (circle of) – A woman and a boy cooking pancakes

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Essay - Gabriel Metsu (circle of) - A woman and a boy cooking pancakes

The seventeenth century was one of the great eras of genre paintings: scenes of everyday life. Some were ‘merry company’ scenes, featuring well-to-do burghers as characters making music, writing letters, or eating oysters, while others showed ‘common’ people engaged in less elevated, mundane activities. Genre painters of the Golden Age depicted the daily sale of fish, meat, poultry or fruit, for instance, and showed food being cleaned and prepared.

The latter motif – preparing food − is the focus of this small painting. A woman is baking pancakes, while a small boy waits beside her with a plate in his hand. In the drab interior, the woman with her white cap, white collar, light-coloured apron and red sleeves stands out superbly. The scene, which is painted with a remarkably loose, open touch, gave the artist an opportunity to demonstrate his control of the brush: the large earthenware pot containing batter in the foreground, the play of light on it, and the blazing fire in the right foreground are all rendered highly convincingly.

This little painting, which was recently restored, was probably made in Leiden around 1650-1655.1 It has not yet been possible to identify the painter, even though the work was exhibited at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem for four months in 2009.2 It was once attributed to the Leiden-born artist Gabriel Metsu.3 But its style and execution suggest otherwise. For the time being, the attribution ‘circle of Metsu’ must suffice. In all probability the painter worked in Leiden, since the motif of women in simple interiors was particularly popular among artists from that city, among them Gerrit Dou (cat. no. 18).