Brussels. Mid-nineteenth Century.


Sight Size: Height: 46 3/4" (119 cm); Width: 31" (79 cm); Framed: Height: 54 1/4" (138 cm); Width: 38 3/4" (98.5 cm); Depth 3" (8 cm);


Oil on canvas. Relined.

Signed in the lower left corned G. Debie (C. Debie?)

Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865) was a Romantic painter and sculptor, who studied in Paris and Rome before settling in Brussels in 1845. His works featured the themes of death and mortality prominently in his painting and sculpture, including this example, one of his most famous works, the painting Two Young Girls (La Belle Rosine) (1847). In this painting, a beautiful young nude stands face to face with a hanging skeleton. Its skull bears a label “La Belle Rosine.” Although there is no physical mirror present, the young woman essentially gazes at her eventual passing future self; it is a confrontation between beauty and death.

The painting is an example of the type of symbolic still life painting known as “Vanitas,” Latin for “vanity.” Vanitas paintings contain symbols of mortality, such as skulls, skeletons or hourglasses, but may also include symbols of vanity (such as mirrors and musical instruments), expressing the emptiness and worthless nature of worldly goods.

Two other versions of this picture known to be by Wiertz exist; one in a private collection and the other in the Wiertz Museum, Brussels. It may be that the present example is yet another version, and that the inscription Debie, who is not a recorded painter, is probably not a signature but a later addition.

Full research report available on request.