Private Collection, UK
Jan van Bijlert was the son of a glass painter who, like his father, studied glass painting at the studio of his Utrecht contemporary, Abraham Bloemaert. van Bijlert later traveled abroad to France and Italy, including a stay in Rome in 1621 where he was one of the founding members of the Bentvueghels, a society of Netherlandish artists working in Rome. By 1624, van Bijlert had returned to Utrecht and stayed there for the remainder of his life. He served as dean of the city’s painters’ guild and became a regent of St Job’s Hospice in 1634. During this time, he specialized in figure painting and portraits, first working under Caravaggesque influences and then softening his approach to a more classical manner.
In our piece, Young Man with a Pipe, van Bijlert has depicted a young man holding a pipe in his hand as he stares pensively into space. It is a superb, penetrating portrait that exemplifies van Bijlert’s capability to captivate the character of his subjects. van Bijlert has placed his subject against a simple ochre background. He is made to serve a strict compositional design, as he is painted in high relief against the neutral background. His pose is calm and reflective, and thus, he is brought into a closer relationship with the observer. The subdued light in the room in which he is placed determines the monochrome coloring of the piece. Only his face and the hand that is holding the pipe are visible to the viewer, which lends great visual importance to these parts, and van Bijlert has painted them with the utmost sensitivity and subtlety. The precise depiction of the subject bears witness to the mastery of this delicately painted work of art. Furthermore, it demonstrates Jan van Bijlert’s immense skill when it comes to artistic technique, clarity of craftsmanship, and figurative expression.