The Netherlands 1594 – 1632 /1672
Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter
Dordrecht, South Holland, Gemeente Dordrecht, Netherlands
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
While most authorities accept that the painting is a work by Jacob Cuyp of Abel Tasman, there remains some doubt that prevents unquestionable attribution. The majority view however is that the painting shows Abel Janszoon Tasman, his second wife Janetjie Tjaers and his daughter Claesgen from his first marriage. Tasman's first wife, Claesjie Heyndricks had died some years before the proposed date of the painting. The work has been dated between 1636 and 1638, with 1637 being the most probable year as Tasman was in Amsterdam for some months. This date places Tasman at 34 years of age, his wife Janetjie 27, and Claesgen at least seven. Following the completion of the painting Tasman left Holland for Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), bound to the East India service for ten years. On one of his voyages originating from Batavia in 1642, he sighted and subsequently took possession of Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand.
The arrangement of the figures across the picture plane is characteristic of seventeenth-century Dutch portraiture. The subjects are dressed in sombre fashion, as befitting their importance and expectations, and placed against a plain background illuminated with a clear, cool light. The red-and-white tiled floor is a typical device used by Dutch artists of the period to create a sense of depth in their compositions. Tasman is shown standing with his right hand outstretched, holding navigational dividers against the table-mounted globe. He gazes directly towards the viewer, as do his wife and daughter. With his left hand he gestures to invite the viewer to make a closer inspection of the globe ─ however, if it once contained geographical details, these are now lost to the abrasions of time. Navigational instruments hang on the wall behind the globe. The table covering of deep aqua-coloured cloth, alludes to the colour of deep oceans.
Janitjie wears a bonnet of white linen and lace, a ruff collar, a fitted black bodice and over-skirt above a russet silk skirt. From her decorated cane purse she has taken an apple to pass to her stepdaughter Claesgen. The apple in this instance represents the passing of knowledge from adult to child. Claesgen wears a bonnet of linen and lace with a drop pearl, glass beads, a square lace collar, a charcoal grey over-skirt and a grey skirt patterned with small flowerhead motifs. She reaches for the apple offered by her stepmother. Over her left arm hangs a purse, smaller but similar in design to the one carried by Janitjie. Three keys hang from a cord beneath Claesgen's overskirt.
A conservation examination and treatment of this painting in 2000 revealed, amongst other details, that Cuyp had originally positioned a female head to the right of Janitjie's left shoulder. The earlier version of the female figure had a soft lace collar rather than the ruff collar Janitjie wears. Damages to the painting indicate it has been rolled either for transport or storage at some time in the past.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra