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Nicolaes Maes, autoportrait, 1680-1685

Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693) was born in Dordrecht in the Netherlands.  As the son of a cloth merchant, he belonged to the city’s upper middle class. He had his first drawing lessons in his home town. When he was a teenager, he became one of Rembrandt’s pupils in Amsterdam. At the time Rembrandt was not only well know as a painter but had also an excellent reputation as a teacher.

During his time with the Master, Maes focussed on painting history pieces, many inspired by the Bible. History pieces at that time were regarded as the highest a painter could achieve, not only in the ability of painting well and compose a scene but to illustrate the main figures’ emotions.

Rembrandt’s influence remained visible in Maes’s work for many years, but the Master did encourage Maes to develop his own style. Maes highly contributed to the development of genre painting in the Netherlands.

After his apprenticeship in Amsterdam, Maes returned to his home town of Dordrecht where he became a successful artist. In addition to his biblical depictions, he also worked on scenes of everyday, domestic life and these made his name. During most of his career, Maes painted elegant portraits which brought him great success.

“Nicolas Maes – Rembrandt’s Versatile Pupil” exhibition is the first major retrospective devoted to Nicolas Maes.

Here is a selection of Maes’s paintings which caught my eyes.


“Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael”, 1653

This is the earliest dated painting by Maes. He painted it not long after he had left Rembrandt’s studio. His teacher’s influence is visible in the subtle emotions and lighting in the scene.


“The Regents of the Barber Surgeons Guild of Amsterdam”, 1679-1680

This life-sized painting is the only official group portrait that Maes ever made.


“The Eavesdropper”, 1657

The eavesdropper is usually a woman, who looks out conspiratorially. She is spying her maid who is secretly meeting her sweetheart. Eavesdroppers have a special place within Maes’s oeuvre. He painted six of them from 1655-1657.


“The Eavesdropper”, 1656

Another Eavesdropper. Here the woman standing on stairs looks out at us with a finger to her lips. She calls for silence, making us complicit in her spying.


“Young Woman Sewing”, 1655

Maes illustrated his scenes of daily life with many details. These give us a good idea of how houses in the seventeenth century were furnished.


“The Old Lacemaker”, 1656

In the seventeenth century, a woman devoted to her household task was considered the model of virtue. This lace-making old woman is a magnificent example.


“Old Woman Dozing”, 1656 – close-up

I had to show you this part of  Maes’s painting, look at the details of this old woman’s wrinkled hands, so precise, absolutely amazing.

I do hope you enjoyed Maes’s inspiring work.