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Portrait of Miss Van Alen (?-?)

ca. 1735
Origin: America, New York, Kinderhook (possibly)
Unframed: 33 1/4 x 26in. (84.5 x 66cm) and Framed: 36 7/8 x 31 1/4in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1966.100.2
A half-length portrait of a young woman turned one-quarter towards the viewer's left, her eyes on the viewer. Her proper right arm is bent at the elbow with her hand raised to chin level and holding a red carnation-shaped flower. Her proper left arm is also bent at the elbow but that hand is held just below her waist; in that hand she holds a pink rose. She wears a grayish blue dress that is open to the waist, the opening filled with a red stomacher over a sheer white, ruffled, lace-edged shift. The dress's front opening is edged in brown; her dress's turned-back cuffs are also brown. A belt encircles her natural waistline. She wears a pearl necklace with a gold clasp in front and gold, drop earrings. She has straight brown hair and blue eyes.
The 3-inch cove-molded, brown-painted frame dates from the nineteenth century.
Label:This portrait was formerly attributed to Pieter Vanderlyn, but subsequent study has revealed a stylistic relationship with a group of paintings attributed to an artist currently known only as the Gansevoort Limner (so named for his portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Leendert Gansevoort of New York). Numerous paintings by his hand have been traced to the merchant and planter families who lived in the Hudson River Valley, including the likeness of Deborah Glen (1964.100.1) in this collection. Most of the inscriptions on these portraits are in Dutch, indicating that the limner was either of Dutch descent or was familiar with that language. He followed almost immediately after the Schuyler Limner (ca. 1715-1725), who worked in the same vicinity. In fact, some of the Gansevoort Limner's oeuvre were probably derived from the more refined likenesses of his predecessor.

Although the Van Alen name was prominent in the Albany, New York, area, the relationship of this sitter to members of the various branches of that family is still unclear. A portrait by the same artist whose subject has a similar costume and pose (in the National Gallery of Art) represents another Miss Van Alen. The two girls were once thought to be twins or at least sisters, but research has failed to provide any firm connection between them.

The aesthetic interest and enduring appeal of the Gansevoort Limner's work derives almost totally from naivete; no real understanding of academic portraiture or its principles is shown. Large areas of fabric, torsos, faces, hands, and arms were sometimes abstracted to the point of being flat. The modeling in Miss Van Alen's face was held to a minimum, and the brushstrokes throughout were crisply ordered in linear patterns, contributing further to the overall stiff simplicity of the likeness. It is this simplicity of form, accentuated by bold outlines and the deep blues and reds of the girl's costume, which makes the portrait so attractive. Unlike Deborah Glen and the richly decorative passages of her dress and background, Miss Van Alen's portrait represents perhaps the purest and most fundamental aspects of this artist's style and vision.
Provenance:M. Knoedler and Co., New York, NY.