Adapting to the Market: Gabriel Metsu in Amsterdam

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This dissertation examines the impact that the vicissitudes of the political and economic environment of the mid-seventeenth century Dutch Republic had on the stylistic and thematic character of paintings that Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) executed after he moved from Leiden to Amsterdam in 1654. In the early 1650s the Dutch Republic faced a multitude of difficulties. Shortly after its independence from Spain in 1648, the sudden death of Stadholder Willem II of Orange in 1650, the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), and a plague outbreak in the mid-1650s, the country was in a perilous state. The political and economic uncertainties facing the country had a direct impact on art markets. This study examines how Metsu adapted his paintings to succeed in this changing environment. After he moved to Amsterdam, which was a much larger market than Leiden, he adopted Gerrit Dou’s (1613-1675) subject matter and Jan Baptist Weenix’s (1621-1659) fluid brushwork to create a new genre style. He also looked carefully at other contemporary genre painters, including Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), and Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), to broaden his thematic and compositional ideas. Metsu also applied his unique sense of humour, evident in expressive facial expressions and body language, to enliven his paintings and invite his viewers’ engagement. By utilizing personal connections to expand his clientele to include wealthy patrons, as well as by diversifying the sizes and subjects of his paintings, Metsu succeeded in broadening his reach to include both wealthy patrons and a broad base in the Amsterdam art market.