Active 1633 – 1658
The Monogrammist I.S. remains an elusive figure who worked in the circle of Rembrandt. In 1904 his artistic identity was first established, based on a group of works signed with the monogram 'I.S.'. Opinions vary as to whether he was originally a German, Baltic or a Dutch-born painter, but the consensus is that he worked in Leiden in the 1630s, as his refined, articulated brushwork, his subject-matter and his almost scientific realism reflect the influence of the then relatively unknown work of the young Rembrandt (1606–69) and other painters in his milieu, notably, the Leiden Fijnschilder Gerrit Dou (1613–75). The earliest work by the Monogrammist I.S. is dated 1632, two years after Rembrandt's departure for Amsterdam. David de Witt, chief curator at the Museum het Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam, proposes that the Monogrammist I.S. was Dutch but travelled east via Scandinavia. His known oeuvre consists exclusively of portrayals of single figures, either ‘tronies’ or actual portraits.
Despite his anonymity today, works by the Monogrammist I.S. have been much admired throughout history, as indicated by the illustrious early provenance of many of his works. His Portrait of an Old Woman now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna was purchased by Archduke Leopold-William (no. 736 in his inventory), Hapsburg governor of Flanders 1647-56. The Old Woman and the Man with a Growth on his Nose, both in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, are first recorded as belonging to Johan Gabriel Stenbock in 1705. Stenbock was Swedish and made a brilliant career at court and in the civil service. He invested his fortune with Dutch bankers and owned other paintings by Rembrandt and his school. Subsequently, both his pictures by the Monogrammist I.S. passed into the distinguished Swedish collections of Count Sparre (1746–94) and Count Tessin (1695-1770). Additionally, his painting of A Scholar Holding a Book entered the prominent collection of Empress Catherine the Great as one of her first acquisitions.
Top Auction Results for Monogrammist I.S.
Portrait of an elderly woman, looking left
Sold for £577,250 ($911,351)
London, Sotheby’s, 8 December 2010, Old Master & British Painting Evening Sale, lot 25
A scholar holding a book
Sold for $441,600
New York, Christie’s, 26 January 2005, Important Old Master Paintings (Part I), lot 20
An old man standing beside a table with books, a candle and a skull
Sold for $210,458
London, Sotheby’s, 26 April 2001, Old Master Paintings, lot 48