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Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image

Gerrit van Honthorst, Dutch, 1592–1656
Oil on canvas
Made in
Netherlands, Europe
Current Location
On View, Gallery 236
32 x 25 1/4 in. (81.3 x 64.1 cm)
framed: 41 3/4 x 35 x 2 3/8 in. (106 x 88.9 x 6 cm)
Credit Line
Friends Fund
Public Domain
Object Number
At first glance this image appears to be a simple picture of a smiling young girl. It is in fact a prostitute’s portrait. Contemporary accounts record the display of painted likenesses of young women to advertise their availability. The medallion inscription, “Who can tell my backside from behind,” confirms the erotic nature of this image. The brilliant highlights that contrast against the dark background and the careful shading to create three-dimensionality were popular stylistic elements that the artist developed in Rome in the early 17th century. He has used them effectively to enhance the sitter’s physical presence.
Sold at the auction of the G. Van Oostrum collection, The Hague, no. 241 [1]

William Craven (1809-1866), 2nd Earl of Craven, Lord-Lieutenant of Warwickshire, Coombe Abbey, Coventry, England [2]

Colnaghi & Scott, London, England, acquired from the Earl of Craven collection [3]

by 1864 -
John Anthony Scott (d.1864), London, England; Mrs. Scott, London, England, by inheritance [4]

- c.1922
Charles Roots, Hereford, England, by inheritance from Mrs. Scott [5]

c.1922 -
W. J. Davies, Hereford, England, purchased from the executors of the Roots estate [6]

by 1929 -
Mrs. Greville Phillips, Friar's House, Hereford, England, by inheritance from W. J. Davies [7]

1931/07/03 -
Baliol Collection, purchased at auction of the collection of Prince Demidoff and others, Christie's, London, July 3, 1931, lot no. 85 [8]

Francis A. Drey, London, England [9]

- 1954
Adolph Loewi, Inc., Los Angeles, CA, USA [10]

1954 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Adolph Loewi, Inc. [11]

The main source for this provenance is the 1999 catalogue raisonné [Judson, J. Richard and Rudolf E. O. Ekkart. "Gerrit van Honthorst, 1592-1656." Doornspijk: Davaco, 1999, cat. no. 215]. Exceptions and other supporting documents are noted.

[1] In his catalogue raisonné, Judson considers it "very likely" that this is the picture sold at this auction and described as "Een Laggende Vrouw met een naakte Pourtraitje in de Hand, waar onder divisje staat..." (A laughing woman holding a small picture of a nude in her hand, under which is a motto) [translation in Broos, B. P. J. "Great Dutch Paintings from America." The Hague: Mauritshuis; Zwolle: Waanders Publishers, 1990, cat. no. 33].

[2] A letter from the Getty Art History Information Program dated February 23, 1988, refers to important notes by Frank Simpson on the W. J. Davies collection (of which this picture was a part) [SLAM document files]. Simpson states that the picture was purchased from Coombe Abbey by Colnaghi & Scott. The Getty researchers also cite an illustration of this picture in an advertisement in the Burlington Magazine (July 1922) which reads "From an important Collection now being offered for sale by Private Treaty. ... Originally from the Coombe Collection." The Getty letter also states that Coombe Abbey was the residence of the Earl of Craven. The Getty Provenance Index names the second Earl of Craven as the most likely owner and lists the dates of ownership by the Earl of Craven as being "after 1833." However, they do not cite any conclusive evidence for this identification or this date [printout, SLAM document files]. Additionally, the catalogue raisonné mentions a copy of the painting, now lost, which may have been in the Coombe Abbey collection.

[3] See note [2].

[4] According to the notes drafted by Frank Simpson (see note [2]), the painting was inherited by John Anthony Scott's widow. She then left the picture to Charles Roots. The Getty Provenance Index, however, has not found any proof that John Anthony Scott was married. They suggest that Mrs. Scott is John Anthony Scott's mother, Caroline Colnaghi, who survived her son and proceeded to bequeath the painting to Roots [printout, SLAM document files].

[5] See note [4].

[6] According to the letter from the Getty Art History Information Program (see note [2]), the executors of the Roots estate sold the painting to W. J. Davies [SLAM document files].

[7] Mrs. Greville Phillips was the executor of Davies' will and inherited paintings from the Davies estate [Broos, B. P. J. "Great Dutch Paintings from America." The Hague: Mauritshuis, p. 293]. The painting was listed in a 1929 exhibition catalog as being lent by Mrs. Greville Phillips ["Commemorative Catalogue of the Exhibition of Dutch Art Held in the Galleries of the Royal Academy, Burlington House." London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1930, cat. no. 363].

[8] According to an annotated copy of the auction catalog at the Chicago Art Institute, Baliol was the buyer ["Catalogue of Old Pictures, the Property of Prince Demidoff, the Property of Mrs. James Dunning and Old Pictures and Drawings from Other Sources." Christie's, London, July 3, 1931, lot no. 85; SLAM document files].

[9] According to Kay Robertson, daughter of art dealer Adolph Loewi, her father often did business with the dealer Francis A. Drey. Mrs. Robertson also stated that her father usually bought paintings from other dealers and not on the open market [notes of telephone conversation with Elizabeth Hinrichs, August 2002, SLAM document files]. It seems likely then that Loewi acquired this painting directly from Drey. Drey's possession of the painting is confirmed in a letter to the Museum from Drey's wife, written after his death. In this letter, Margaret Drey provides the Museum with information about the painting's signature, provenance, and exhibition history [letter dated May 24, 1956, SLAM document files].

[10] See note [9].

[11] Bill of sale from Adolph Loewi, Inc. dated March 8, 1954 [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, March 4, 1954.
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