Doctor Michel and his gift to the church in Veules

All the versions of this article: English , français

The picture

The small commune of Veules-les-Roses (formerly Veules-en-Bray) boasts the smallest river in France, the Veulettes, running through it. Its charm has also attracted a number of artists over the years. In the church of Saint-Martin (rebuilt between 1520 and 1610), with its interesting decor (notably the canopy painted on the vault and the sculpted pillars), a painting (ill. 1) hanging on one of the walls of the nave catches the eye quite quickly: Christ among the Doctors, whose Nordic character is immediately perceptible and which seems to have been painted in the first half of the 17th century. No details of its creator are available on site or in the Ministry of Culture databases (apart from the mention of a restoration in 1993) [1] and it bears a simple label "donné par la famille Michel".

1. Anonymous Nordic from the first half of the 17th century
Christ among the Doctors
Oil on canvas - 180 x 200 cm
Veules-les-Roses, église Saint-Martin
Photo: Moana Weil-Curiel
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Intrigued by this painting, we leafed through the veritable "bible" that Benedict Nicholson devoted to the Caravaggesques [2] and we have noted certain probable influences of Dirk Van Baburen (1595-1624) who treated this subject several times - the turbans, in particular that of the old man on the right, which is found in identical form in Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, the invention of which is by Baburen [3] (ill. 2), the folded pages of the book... - or those, less prominent, of a Mathias Stom (1600-1650), without attaining their quality or vigour.

2. Workshop of Dirk van Baburen (c. 1594-1624)
Oil on canvas
Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene
Current location unknown
Photo taken from the book by Benedict Nicolson
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Continuing our attempts at identification, we came across a painting preserved in Columbus (Ohio) since 1961 (ill. 3) which seems to bear some similarities to the Veules painting, particularly in the treatment of certain faces and fabrics. Benedict Nicolson and Luisa Vertova attribute it to a Nordic Caravaggio whom they call "Master F [4]", who is thought to have been influenced by Abraham Janssens (1575-1632). On the museum’s website, it is currently attributed to Gerrit Arents Van Deurs [5] (reported in 1658, died in 1702).

3. Anonymous Nordic, first third of the 17th century
Figures Round a Table by Candlelight
Oil on canvas - 132,7 x 188,6 cm
Columbus, Museum of Art
Photo: Colombus, Museum of Art
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But this attribution (which is not unanimous [6]) itself poses some problems when compared with the two paintings signed by this artist, an Allegory of Faith, Hope and Love (ill. 4) preserved in Oslo [7] and a genre scene illustrating a proverb ("When the old sing, the young play the flute") conserved in Johannesburg [8], the latter being stylistically even further removed from the American or Norman painting. We are therefore left to speculate, and both the Veules-les-Roses painting, the very fine quality of which prompted this publication, and the Columbus painting retain much of their mystery.

4. Gerrit Arents Van Deurs (?-?)
Allegory of Faith, Hope and Love, 1664
Oil on canvas - 127.5 x 155 cm
Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet
Photo: Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet
See the image in its page

The donor

Leaving the church, you quickly reach the town hall, which is located on Avenue du Docteur Michel, and contacts with local historians [9] even make it possible to specify that the large house, now occupied by the town hall, was the family home of the Michel family who, in the previous generation, also owned the "Vieux château" in Veules. At the time of his death in 1960, Louis Michel, who had been a veteran of the 14-18 War and then a doctor on a transatlantic airline, had been living in retirement with his sister, Mme Franger, each occupying an upper floor. They had no children, hence the importance of the bequest to the commune (this house, its furniture and various other possessions, which were soon sold). To pay tribute to him, the municipal team gave his name to the street where the town hall is located and, more recently, chose to reconcile their two names on the pediment of a multi-purpose hall. There are no documents (inventories, catalogues or correspondence) that would enable us to identify their works of art, but it would seem that this painting first belonged to his father (who died in 1919), who lived in the "Vieux Château", as we know that it was already hanging in the church before the Second World War.

Didier Rykner


[1Oil on canvas, 180 x 200 cm. Listed ("classé") as a Historic Monument on 6 September 1971. The restoration carried out by Catherine Huisse made it possible to remove the repainting on Jesus’ cloak and on the figure on the right (who had a beard).

[2B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, [1979]. Updated and completed by L. Vertova, Turin, Alemandi, 3 vols, 1990.

[3W. Franitz, author of his catalogue raisonné (2013), mentions it (p. 172-174) and reproduces three unlocated studio versions and a copy preserved in Hamburg. He also stresses that the existence of studio versions does not necessarily imply the existence of an original.

[4B. Nicolson, L. Vertova, op. cit. t. III, Pl. 1413.

[5Colombus, Colombus Museum of Art, oil on canvas, 132,7 x 188,6 cm, Inv. 1961.004. Sold to the museum by Thomas Agnews & Sons under an attribution to Gerrit Van Honthorst (B. Nicolson, L. Verova, op. cit. t. I, p. 85 ("Master F").

[6In the catalogue for the exhibition Corps & Ombres (Toulouse, Musée des Augustins (for Nordic painting) - Montpellier, Musée Fabre, 2012, then Los Angeles and Hartford, 2013), the curators present it as "Anonymous Flemish or Dutch painted in the first third of the seventeenth century" (cat. exp. 2012, p. 258-259 (ill.)), notice by O. Zeder). The author of the notice mentions the opinion of the curator of the Columbus museum, who is not convinced either. Curiously, the painting was not shown during the exhibition’s two American stops.

[7Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 155 cm. Signed and dated "Gv. Deus / 1664".

[8Johannesburg Art Gallery, Inv. 167, oil on canvas, 120.8 x 149.6 cm. Signed and dated ("G. V. Deurs 1663"). We can therefore assume that he signed and dated his paintings. However, neither the painting in Veules nor the one in Colombus do.

[9We would like to thank Bernard Anciaux, its president, and the members of the Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Veulais for the information they provided.


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