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Adam de Coster | A young woman holding a distaff before a lit candle

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Author ✍️ at 11/12/2017 12:22:00 AM

Vhis painting is emblematic of the refined and dramatic nocturnes that form the small catalogue of works by Adam de Coster. Benedict Nicolson was the first scholar to isolate a corpus of works by this Flemish candlelight painter in a series of publications.
He based this group around Lucas Vorsterman’s engraving after a lost work by de Coster, which depicted tric-trac players and a musician illuminated by two burning candles on a table.

Unpublished until its sale in 1992 when Professor Leonard J. Slatkes identified the work as by Adam de Coster, the present work remains one of the most significant additions in recent decades to the artist’s catalogue.

In this painting, the glow of a single flame illuminates the various rich fabrics and delicate features of a young woman set against a dark background. Vivid shadows cast throughout the composition define her engaging visage as well as the patterned details of her sleeve, the tufts of fur that line her robe, and the wispy tendrils of the distaff she holds near the candle.

The same rich crimson color found in her robe and striped headdress is also subtly detectable in her supple lips, the apple of her cheeks, and the sheen of the stem of the candlestick. Distinct affinities are apparent between the present painting and de Coster’s A Man Singing by Candlelight (circa 1625-1635, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), a work, like the present canvas, once thought to be by Honthorst.
Both works depict a single figure dressed in a fur-lined costume, beautifully lit by the flame of what appears to be the same candle stick. Although it is tempting to think these two canvases may have once been pendants that hung at opposite sides of a grand gallery, the figures face in the same direction and hold slightly different places in the picture plane. Nevertheless, the undoubted connection between the two illustrates de Coster’s reworking of a successful and captivating compositional prototype.

Little is known of the biography of Adam de Coster.
Born in 1586 in the Flemish city of Mechelen, a province of Antwerp, he appears to have spent much of his career in Antwerp and became a Master of the Guild of Saint Luke around 1607.
His portrait was reproduced as an engraving in Anthony van Dyck's** Iconography, where he was described as "pictor noctium", signaling that his reputation as a painter of night scenes had firmly been established in Northern Europe by the 1630s.
Although documentary evidence only ever records de Coster outside of Antwerp in 1635 when he visited Hamburg, Nicolson has noted that correspondences between his paintings and the works of the Lombard artist Antonio Campi suggest a possible sojourn to Italy.

The idea of the artist's Italian travels becomes even more intriguing when considering the provenance of the present work, for it is said to have remained in a private collection in Palermo from the 17th century until the mid 20th century. The model, in her fur-trimmed red dress with an elaborate white sash and a striped red turban, reappears in another painting by de Coster with possible Italian provenance, The Denial of Saint Peter (private collection).
The stylistic similarities between these two paintings also suggest they were executed around the same time. That they both appear to have remained in Italy for centuries further hints at the possibility that de Coster may have once been active south of the Alps.
Whether or not he ever left the Low Countries, Adam de Coster undoubtedly was influenced by the Caravaggesque style that spread throughout Europe in the early 17th century. Particularly relevant are the works by Northern Caravaggisti such as Gerard Seghers, from Antwerp, and Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit von Honthorst, and his student Matthias Stomer from Utrecht, among whom vivid chiaroscuro compositions, enhanced by an artificial light source such as a candle or brazier, were extremely popular.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that attributions to Gerrit von Honthorst and Matthias Stomer were once proposed for the present painting, which for centuries acted as a pendant pair to Matthias Stomer's Cavalier lighting a pipe from an oil lamp (private collection) while both paintings hung in the Palazzo Galati in Palermo.
The pair remained together until their sale in these Rooms in 1992. The recent appearance at auction of direct copies after this pair, which also come from a private Sicilian collection, reconfirms their old Italian provenance and their former connection as pendants. | © Sotheby’s

Adam de Coster’s A Young Woman Holding a Distaff Before A Lit Candle made a record $4.9m at Sotheby’s New York Master Paintings and Sculpture Evening Sale on January 25, 2017.

L’eccellente Notturno "A Young Woman Holding A Distaff Before A Lit Candle" -del 17° secolo di Adam de Coster, è stato venduto il 25 gennaio del 2017 per 4,9 milioni di dollari, stabilendo un nuovo record per l'artista e superando il precedente, stabilito da Sotheby’s nel 1992.
Proveniente dalla Collezione Safra quest’opera rimane una delle conquiste più significative degli ultimi decenni per il catalogo del de Coster.
La giovane ritratta emerge dal fondo scuro, illuminata solo dalla luce della della candela, che permette di scorgere i delicati e preziosi tessuti del vestito.
Per molto tempo gli studiosi hanno pensato che fosse opera di Gherardo delle Notti (Gerrit von Honthorst) o Matthias Stomer. Non compare sul mercato dal 1992, quando fu venduta sempre nella Grande Mela da Sotheby’s per 418.000 dollari.

Coster, Adam De (Mechelen, 1586 circa - Anversa, 1643) Raro caravaggista fiammingo; pittore anche di scene di genere e soggetti storici. Nel 1607-8 diviene Maestro nella Gilda di S.Luca in Anversa. Nel 1635 è documentato ad Amburgo. Il viaggio di studio in Italia non è certo anche se il Nicolson sottolinea affinità stilistiche tra l'artista e il pittore Antonio Campi in Lombardia.
Contemporaneo di Theodor Rombouts e Gherard Seghers, entrambi caravaggisti, e influenzato da Honthorst, De Coster dipinse alcuni notevoli quadri al lume di candela raffiguranti scene di genere con effetti notturni dipinti con grande realismo.
Lucas Vosterman ha eseguito incisioni dalle sue composizioni. Pochissimi i dipinti firmati.

Adam de Coster - Saint Francis in Meditation with Brother Leo
Adam de Coster - The Denial of Saint Peter
Adam de Coster - A Man Singing by Candlelight
Adam de Coster - Card Players
Adam de Coster - Denial of Saint Peter
Adam de Coster - Judit
Adam de Coster - Three Singers

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