Michael Dahl 1659-1743
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Michael Dahl 1659-1743

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Venus and Cupid


Oil painting on canvas 143 x 102 cm., contained in a fine carved and giltwood frame


Provenance: the artist's studio sale, February 1743/4 (two day sale of 147 lots) ...................... unrecorded until published in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper (1935), as being rediscovered after being lost since 1744 (press cutting attached to rear of the picture); Private Collection, Sweden until 2009

Literature: Wilhelm Nisser Michael Dahl and the Contemporary Swedish School of Painting, page 84 (Bodley Head, London, 1927);
George Vertue, Notebooks, III, page 121 (Walpole Society III, 1933-4);


Note: Subject paintings by Michael Dahl are exceptionally rare: his biographer Wilhelm Nisser11 had apparently never seen one, though several are recorded in the artist's studio sale (loc. Cit. supra). These “large peeces” included The Holy Family with Virgin and Child, St. Joseph and St.John etc; Diana and Endymion; St John standing, a lamb by him; and Venus laying on a couch. The present painting is the only one which has both survived and been recognised, but even here the picture has not been available to scholars since its last appearance in Sweden in 1935, when it was described in a Stockholm newspaper (op. cit).

Michael Dahl was born in Stockholm on 29th September 1659. He studied with David Ehrenstrahl, the leading Swedish portrait painter of his day, before embarking on a tour of Europe in 1682, visiting first London where he spent some time in Kneller's studio. His tour lasted more than seven years, and he studied in Paris, Rome (1684) and Frankfurt before coming to London where he settled permanently in the Spring of 1689. He was soon independently successful as a portrait painter, and was second only to Kneller himself in the success he enjoyed. His Scandinavian origins ensured patronage from Prince George of Denmark, and, in turn, Queen Anne and members of her English court. Amongst his most generous patrons was the Duke of Somerset for whom he painted the Petworth “Beauties”. His royal commissions petered out by 1714, but he was still employed to portray numerous members of the Establishment.

Compositionally, his pictures are close to Kneller, but he imbues his sitters with a more thoughtful and psychological air, and tends to avoid the flashier aspects of Kneller's style. In 1712 he was charging the large sum of £50 for a royal full-length, and he remained a respected and successful member of the London art scene into old age, He retired from painting in about 1740, by which time the new poetic rococo style was supplanting his sober baroque conceptions of portraiture. He died in 1743 when his collection (including the present work) was sold at auction.