In an issue of Oud Holland from 1931, the British art historian Campbell Dodgson, who was keeper of drawings and prints at the British Museum, wrote of Dirck de Vries: “It does not appear that any [painted] work whatever of Dirck de Vries is now known to be extant, though his pictures of still life may be preserved in Italy under other names, or no name at all.” In his article, Dodgson discussed the then only known work by de Vries: a drawing, which had recently gone under the hammer at Sotheby’s (March 11, 1931), depicting a mother with her five children, and inscribed at the top Nu mijnen guden Vrunt Sigor Lodowick siet meerder patientie ter werelt en heb ick niet [Now you see, my good friend Lodewijk, I don’t have more patience in the world]. The signature and date ‘Dirck de vrijes. Venetiae adi 6 ottijbrij ao 1590’ firmly establish de Vries’ authorship, as well as the exact date he executed the drawing, which is now in the P. and N. de Boer Foundation in Amsterdam (inv. no. 578).
Although Dodgson did not bother to speculate on the identity of the ‘Lodowick’ to whom the drawing was dedicated, in their article on de Vries in Oud Holland in 1950 F. G. Pariset and J. G. Van Gelder correctly identified him as the Antwerp-born Lodewijk Toeput, who lived and worked in Treviso, close to Venice. Toeput - also known under his amusing Italicized moniker Pozzoserrato - was not the only artist who de Vries counted among his friends: according to Karel van Mander Hendrick Goltzius, too, was a good friend of de Vries’. This is corroborated by the fact that Goltzius drew a portrait of de Vries, dated 1590, now kept in the Teylers Museum (inv. no. N 073). Moreover, de Vries’ son Frederick lived with Goltzius in Haarlem in 1597 as his pupil; Frederick’s younger brother Pierantonio, too, stayed with Goltzius, in 1612. In addition, de Vries was a good friend of Hans Rottenhammer and the Sadeler family of engravers.
Our painter, though somewhat obscured by the years, seems to have been well-connected in his days; it thus comes as no surprise that van Mander, too, felt compelled to mention de Vries in his Schilder-boeck: “There are in Venice two more artful Dutchmen, one Dierick de Vries from Frisia […] that I have seen from this de Vries different kitchens or fruit markets in the Venetian style, nicely colored and well painted, beautiful and glowing, so that I could not omit his name here: I do not know his age.” Van Mander might have seen works by de Vries in the collection of Jan Nicquet in Amsterdam, as a valuation of Nicquet’s estate from 1612 mentions no less than three works by de Vries, including an Italianate kitchen (“Een Italiaensche Keuken” and a market scene (“een Marckt”). De Vries’ works were appraised for relatively high sums, indicating they were in fashion at the time.
The Frenchman Jean-Baptiste du Val, who was part of the retinue of the French envoy in Venice, regularly visited artists in their atelier, reporting on what he saw in his journal. On July 11 1609 he wrote: “I have met Seigneur Theodoro Frisius renowned painter in Venice, not only for doing portraits well naturally and especially those of illustrious ancient and modern men, but also for another way of painting he had. This was that he very naively represented the public places and markets of Venice with so much curiosity that in a butcher’s shop one would see all sorts of meat in detail and the butchered or skinned animals in various positions. At Saint Mark’s square the Saturday market with all sorts of clothes on display and the charlatans selling their potions. In others, he showed boar and venison, and in another fish and in another greens, fruits, flowers and similar things, with such an exact diligence that one could not wish for anything that he had not observed.”
Until recently, little was known with certainty about de Vries’ life; however, in an excellent recent article Ine Legerstee has filled in many of the gaps in his biography. De Vries was born in Frisia - probably in Leeuwarden - ca. 1554; nothing is known of his early life or his training. In 1580 the city of Leeuwarden embraced Protestantism, perhaps causing de Vries - who was a Catholic according to the Venetian Status Animarum of 1592/3 - to leave his native city. He was registered as ‘Todaro Fiamengo’ from 1587 onwards in the Guild of St Luke in Venice; however, his first child, Julia, was recorded in the baptismal registers of the Santi Apostoli parish - where the painter lived with his wife, Ugenia - in 1584, confirming the presence of our painter in the city already at that time. The couple had seven children, at least two of which - the aforementioned Frederick and Pierantonio - became artists. De Vries came from a relatively well-to-do background, and seems to have prospered in Venice, being able to provide dowries for four of his five his daughters and to pay for their marriage celebrations; both van Mander and du Val seem to suggest the artist ran a successful workshop. De Vries’ death on 3 April 1612 is recorded in the records of the parish of San Giovanni Crisostomo, where he had lived from 1602 onwards: ‘Messer Thodero de Frisia Fleming painter 58 years old died of a fever that lasted 20 days’.
Although de Vries’ known oeuvre remains relatively small, Dodgson was right when he suggested in 1931 that paintings by the artists were probably yet to emerge. Today, a coherent oeuvre of about a dozen paintings can be reconstructed, which consists mostly of works which fit both van Mander and du Val’s descriptions very well: they are large canvases, depicting either Venetian markets or kitchen interiors. A typical example is the Vegetable Market in Venice in the State Hermitage, Saint Petersburg (canvas, 115 x 205 cm; acc. no. ГЭ-3340). Another example can be found at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which holds de Vries’ Venetian Kitchen Interior (canvas, 97,8 x 134,7 cm, acc. no. 37.2651), which is very similar to the present work in many details, including the figure of the Venetian noblewoman, the rows of polished copper pots, the roundels of glass making up the window panes, the figure of the kitchen maid, etc. Another version of our composition, of similar dimensions but slightly different in the details and painted with a cooler palette, was sold at on 19 October 2016 at Im Kinsky, Vienna, along with a pendant (oil on canvas, 94 x 128 cm).
As Pariset and Van Gelder rightly noted in their 1950 article, it is important to bear in mind that it was de Vries, along with a few others such as Pieter Cornelisz van Ryck, who introduced the subjects of Pieter Aertsen (1508 - 1575) and Joachim Beuckelaer (1533 - 1574) in Venice, “applying the Venetian touch of the Bassano’s”. This successful integration of Northern subject matter and Southern colour and style make de Vries a unique artist, whose oeuvre certainly merits attention and additional research.