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A new acquisition for the Agnes

Jacquelyn N. Coutré remembers what it felt like when she learned that she had successfully acquired an important Old Master painting for the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. 

“I felt tremendous exhilaration,” she recalls. “There may have been a little dance in my office as well.”

[Ruth and Naomi]
JanVictors, Ruth and Naomi, 1653, oil on canvas, 108.6 x 137.2 cm, Purchase, Bader Acquisition Fund, 2015 (58-002). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s, Inc.

For Dr. Coutré, the acquisition of the painting by Jan Victors, entitled  Ruth and Naomi, is a significant one for a number of reasons. Not only is it the first painting by the artist to enter into the gallery’s permanent collection, it also rounds out the scope of its Old Master works – specifically those by Rembrandt and his followers.

While Dr. Coutré, the Bader Curator and Researcher of European Art at the Agnes, says it is unclear whether Victors studied formally with Rembrandt around 1640, the painting, which was created in 1653, certainly takes elements of his style in its gestures and facial expressions.

Ruth and Naomi depicts a scene from the Old Testament’s Book of Ruth (1:15-17) in which the widowed Israelite Naomi urges her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, to return to her people to find a new husband. Ruth, however, vows to stand by Naomi as widows related by marriage, even though it means that Ruth could forgo remarrying and having a family.

“Victors has captured just this moment, when Ruth pledges her allegiance to Naomi, and the latter struggles to accept her decision. It really pares down a complicated narrative to the most essential emotional moment of the story,” Dr. Coutré explains.

While Rembrandt was working on a small scale, Ruth and Naomi is an impressive 109 x 137 cm – a large painting by the standards of the day.

“When you think about Dutch paintings, they tend to be small because they had to fit in tall, narrow Dutch homes,” she says. “This painting would have made a statement in a variety of ways, not the least of which is because of its size.”

The painting, which was purchased with the support of the Bader Acquisition Fund, has special significance because it was a work that Dr. Alfred Bader himself had once wished to purchase at auction in 1988.

“At the time, he went for another painting that is now in the Agnes collection,” says Dr. Coutré, “but he had always regretted not buying it. It stayed in his mind. So he was excited when he saw that it was coming up at auction. It was really the fulfillment of one of his collecting desires.”

While Dr. Coutré and Dr. Bader discussed the possibility of acquiring Ruth and Naomi for the Agnes collection together, it was she who put in the successful bid on behalf of the gallery. “I really wanted it,” she says happily of her first acquisition since stepping into her role at the Agnes in April of this year. “It’s simply a gorgeous painting.”

Dr. Coutré anticipates that Ruth and Naomi will be exhibited for the first time in the summer of 2017 as part of an exhibition celebrating Dr. Bader’s many years as an art collector and marking his 50-year relationship with the Agnes.

For more about Ruth and Naomi, visit the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s website.