The Quarrelsome Behaviour of Isaac van Duynen, Painter of Fish
Isaac van DUYNEN’S Still Life with Fish on a Table is now on view at Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder. documents from the archives give us a good picture of this painter from The Hague, who seems not to have been averse to a good quarrel.
It was the renowned artist Abraham Bredius at the end of the previous century who chanced on a large number of documents relating to the painter of fish, Isaac van Duynen, during his researches in the city archive in The Hague. Bredius’ notes, that are now deposited in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD) in The Hague, have remained unnoticed until now.
The fish vendors of Dordrecht
Isaac van Duynen, son of Gerrit van Duynen, was born in Dordrecht in 1628. After thorough research, Bredius discovered that he came from a family of Dordrecht fish vendors – something that may explain his liking for still lifes with fish. Nothing is known of his training as a painter, although we do know that he made a journey to Italy. A notary’s deed of 6 July 1661 states that just before he went on his journey to Rome, Isaac van Duynen left two paintings in the house of a certain Jan Huijs, a servant in Dordrecht. Later however Huijs refused to return the paintings; the painter who had lived in The Hague since 1657 replied by commissioning a notary to get them back.
Rude and impertinent
This incident was the first in a long series of conflicts in which Van Duynen played a role that was not always diplomatic. A young mother, for instance, who had rented a house from him complained bitterly and at some length to a Hague notary about the behaviour of the painter and his wife. She stated that in a quarrel over unpaid rent she had first of all been bombarded with curses by Mrs Van Duynen: you are worse than scum /…/ you’re nothing but a devil, I’ll smash your face in, and more insults too offensive to repeat. Then Van Duynen himself arrived on the scene; he too spoke in a manner that was also extremely rude and impertinent threatening violence. Among other things he said to the woman, If you were a man I’d cut your face to shreds.
A high price for rotten fish
Apart from reports of quarrels in which Van Duynen was involved, Bredius also found an extremely amusing story in the archive that tells us something about the trade in paintings in the seventeenth century. For once it was not Van Duynen who was in the wrong. On 5 July, 1676 the treasurer Van der Does lodged a complaint about the auctioneer at the Hague auction rooms, a certain Hendrick Broeckman. Van der Does had paid the tidy sum of 17 guilders for a painting that was praised by Broeckman as one of Isaac van Duynen’s best works. When he proudly showed the artist his acquisition, however, Van Duynen told him, that isn’t by me, but by one of my worst disciples […] you’ve been cheated, Broeckman bought it from me for five guilders.
A life of debts
From the archives we learn that Van Duynen was almost always in debt. Charges were brought against him, among others, by a baker, a vintner, a cloth merchant and a surgeon. He owed the latter 58 guilders and 18 stuivers for both medical treatment and shaving (surgeons were also barbers in those days). Together with his brothers, Gerrit and Abraham, Van Duynen dealt in property, but this also caused problems. Johan de Marees, a knight of the order of St Michael, accused the brothers of improper conduct and cheating during the sale of a plot of ground. Van Duynen was still alive in 1679 when he was once more charged with debts; he must have died shortly afterwards however, since a document of 27 March 1681 refers to him as the late.