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Godfried Schalcken (Made 1643-The Hague 1706)

The Game of 'Lady, come into the Garden' late 1660s

Oil on panel | 63.5 x 49.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 405343

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  • If the ‘Delft School’ of Vermeer and de Hooch, and the works of Gerard Ter Borch represent two strands in the transformation of Dutch genre painting, the third is provided by Gerrit Dou and his many followers. Godfried Schalcken studied with Dou in Leiden during the years 1662-5, before returning to his native Dordrecht, where this work was created. Dou taught ‘fine-painting’ - the patient depiction of minute detail. According to his pupil and biographer, Houbraken, Schalcken was said to have worked for one month on the tapestry in this painting. This application requires more than just patience, for Schalcken in every part observes the impact of light, in this warmly glowing candlelit scene. Detail is only to be found where there is light enough to reveal it, mostly around the foreground though the tapestry itself is very inconsistently lit. Many early seventeenth-century interiors are sight-tunnels, where the illusion of maximum distance is created by telescoped single-vanishing-point perspective. Schalcken does the same thing with shadow: we are made to peer into the darkness, which seems at first to deny any depth, though gradually our eyes pick out the fireplace, far wall of the room and curtain opened to reveal another room beyond.

    Schalcken’s biographer, Houbraken, also provides the best information as the events depicted in this bizarre gathering: ‘in the cabinet of Mr. Joh. Van Schuilenburg hangs the representation of a certain game that the youngsters of Dordrecht would commonly play at that time, whenever they gathered with each other to have fun together, called ‘Lady come into the Garden’ (Vrouwtje kom ten Hoof). He [Schalcken] portrayed himself dressed in his shirtsleeves and underwear and seated against the lap of a girl. The other faces are also portraits, and were recognized by all at the time.’ (The Great Theatre of Netherlandish Painters and Paintresses, 1718-21)

    With so many innocent-looking Dutch scenes turning out to be brothels it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that this risqué horse-play is in fact innocent, but this is what Houbraken says and he remains our best witness. It should be said that respectable Dutch women were famous for their apparent licence and real chastity. The English naturalist John Ray (1627-1705) remarked in his Observations of 1763 on their habit of kissing, ‘frequently used among themselves either in frolics or upon departures and returns though never so short’. They are certainly frolicking in this painting but what are they doing? What are the rules of this game ‘Lady Come into the Garden’? Presumably the young man (a self-portrait) is set a series of tests, failure in which results in his surrendering an item of clothing until he reduced to the state visible here, stripped to the undergarments. We can be confident and relieved that this is not going any further, as the girl behind, said to be the artist’s sister, Maria, beckons to the next victim. Schalcken appeals to the audience as if to say, ‘They’ll have your shirt!’

    Traces of a signature, formerly read as: 'G.Scalcken me fecit'

    Acquired by George IV in 1803; recorded in the Dining Room at Carlton House in 1819 (no 70); in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 1841 (no 116)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel


    63.5 x 49.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    86.1 x 71.5 x 6.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    "Le roi detroussé"

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