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Jacques de Gheyn III

(1596 Leiden – 1644 Utrecht)

Triton Blowing on a Conch. Etching. 19.8 x 16.3 cm. 1616–1620. The New Hollstein 19 I (of II).

Jacques de Gheyn III, the eldest son of Jacques (II) de Gheyn, was a painter and etcher who left a modest but very varied cor­pus of prints. Trained by his father, he was subsequently active as an independent artist in The Hague and was admitted as a master to the city’s Guild of St. Luke in 1615. The de Gheyn family of artists was deeply rooted in the intellectual and cultural life of the city. Among the prominent friends of Jacques de Gheyn III were the brothers Maurits and Constantijn Huygens. In 1618 he accompanied Constantijn on a journey to England and in 1620 embarked on an official mission to Sweden, where he presented works by his father to the king. In his autobiography published in 1630 Constantijn Huygens regretted the fact that de Gheyn had evidently renounced his profession as an artist; in his old age Jacques appears to have concerned himself more with building up his collection of artworks and antiques. In 1634 de Gheyn moved to Utrecht, where he served as a canon of the Church of St. Mary until his death.

Triton, produced between 1616 and 1620, is a little printmaking gem from the period of Dutch Mannerism. The wiry, muscular torso of the sea god – half human, half fish – is presented in lost profile. This exotic mythological figure sparked de Gheyn’s creative imagination and inspired him to an Arcimboldo-like design. The Triton’s head is covered with seaweed, bizarre fins spring from his hugely inflated cheeks and his claw-like hands are covered with shells that give the appearance of armour. The fish’s scaly tail writhes up menacingly out of the waves. The artist has portrayed the splendid Triton conch, named after the sea creature, with meticulous attention to detail. The whole scene is executed in a refined, intricate, highly concentrated etching technique which creates an effective, dramatically flicker­ing chiaroscuro.

This very rare etching is of the first state before the address of the publisher Hendrick Hondius. The New Hollstein records just two impressions in Coburg and Vienna. A superb, sharp and contrasting impression with thread margins around the framing line. Minor defects, otherwise in perfect condition.

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