Domestic Virtue - Mieris, Willem van

Fine Art

Mieris, Willem van

1662 -1747



Domestic Virtue

Oil on panel
20 x 15 inches (50.8 x 38 cm)
Signed: W van Mieres F. Anno


Christie’s London, June 1816
Lady Mildmay, Dogmersfield, 1829 and 1838
Alfred de Rothschild, London
The Countess of Carnarvon
Christie’s London, May 1925
Private Collection, USA


Willem van Mieris was a leader of highly finished genre pieces, a tradition begun by Gerrit Dou and continued by Willem’s father, Frans van Mieris the Elder, in Leiden. After studying with his father, van Mieris entered the Leiden guild, where he served as the hoofman until 1708, as well as the dean of the guild. In 1736, he founded a drawing Academy in Leiden with fellow artists Jacob Toorenvliet and Karl de Moor, and functioned as its director until 1736. He continued to paint genre scenes and portraits throughout this period until the late 1730’s, when his eyesight began to fail.

The 1820’s critic John Smith wrote of the “extraordinary delicacy and finish” in Mieris’ paintings. Our picture, Domestic Virtue, exhibits this endearing quality, portraying a peasant family gathered in the center of their cottage. The woman, who slips one foot out of her shoe and gently rests it on the foot warmer, leans tenderly toward her sleeping infant. Her husband leans over them both, smiling warmly. The three figures are surrounded by elements of their daily life; objects that speak of each person’s role in the domestic life. The father stands protectively over his family; the mother sits with her spinning tools in hand, watchful of her sleeping babe; the child sleeps safely tucked into her bassinet, toys strewn on the floor. A birdcage hangs above the group, perhaps a symbolic reference to Domestic Virtue, as the birdcage often alluded to the positive linkage of marital love in Dutch contemporary literature. The composition highlights the figures, shrouding the rest of the interior space in shadow. Sufficient information, however, is provided for the viewer to appreciate the simple structural clarity of the picture. Overall, the scene embodies Dutch belief in the sanctity of the home, pointing to the centrality of family and domesticity in Mieris’ day.

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