(b. 1629, Leiden, d. 1667, Amsterdam)
The Sick Childc. 1660
Oil on canvas, 33,2 x 27,2 cm
Gabriel Metsu was born in Leiden, the son of a Flemish painter who had emigrated to the north. He was a pupil of Gerrit Dou, a painter of genre scenes and the founder of the so-called 'fijnschilder' school of painting, whose work is characterized by its very high finish. Metsu was one of the founder members of the Leiden guild in 1648 but by 1657 was living in Amsterdam. Like so many artists from smaller towns (including Rembrandt, who also came from Leiden) he was drawn to the metropolis by its thriving art market and the hope of lucrative commissions. Metsu is a fascinating and eclectic artist whose work at different times shows the influences of Jan Steen, Nicolaes Knüpfer, Gerard ter Borch, and his master Gerrit Dou.
Most of Metsu's paintings are genre scenes but he also painted religious subjects (including a notable Noli Me Tangere of 1667, now in Vienna) as well as a few portraits, still lifes and game pieces. This particular painting is a genre scene and yet the pose of the child on her mother's knee is reminiscent of that used to depict the Infant Christ in Mary's lap. These religious resonances are deepened by the small black-framed painting of the Crucifixion which hangs on the wall above the figures. Metsu's technique is quite different from that of his master: the mother and child are broadly painted with a rich, almost succulent application of paint. His palette too is bolder and more varied than Dou's. In all, there is a similarity with contemporary Flemish painting and even echoes of pictures of the Virgin and Child by Anthony van Dyck.