Portraits by Julius de Geest

During her internship at the RKD Kaya Verkooijen carried out research into the work of the little-known painter Julius de Geest. Her starting point was the list of 22 paintings attributed to Julius de Geest by the art historian Abraham Wassenbergh in 1967, which were mainly portraits of the Frisian nobility.

Career as a painter

Julius de Geest (1638/1639-1699) was born in Leeuwarden and began his career in the studio of his famous father Wybrand de Geest (1592-1672). Once his father had introduced him to the rudiments of painting, he travelled to Antwerp to study with Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678). Then he worked for a time in the studio of Johannes Mijtens (c. 1614-1670), where he mastered the elegant style of portraiture typically practised in The Hague. Like other painters in the court city, De Geest painted slim figures with slender hands and long, pointed fingers. He consistently painted them standing, three-quarter length, with drapery or a balustrade behind, and with a view through to a landscape. Yet despite these similarities, De Geest’s work cannot easily be confused with the work of important Hague masters such as Baen, Hanneman, Mijtens or Netscher, or even his own father, whose talent for painting Julius did not, unfortunately, inherit.

1. Julius de Geest, Portrait of Douwe Sirtema van Grovestins, 1687, oil on canvas, 66.5 x 57.5 cm, private collection
2. Julius de Geest, Portrait of Catharina van Scheltinga, c. 1687, oil on canvas, 68 x 58.5 cm, private collection
3. Johannes Heijmans, Portrait of Ernst Mockema van Harinxma thoe Slooten, 1671, oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, private collection


Through visual analysis, Kaya was able to remove sixteen works from the list of attributions made by Abraham Wassenbergh. The attribution of two of these paintings, the portraits of Jarich van Ockinga and Barbara van Camstra, was rejected many years ago by the Fries Museum. The portrait of Pieter Edzard van Harinxma thoe Slooten cannot have been painted by De Geest because, according to its inscription, it was made several years after he had died. Also not by De Geest are the portraits of Pieter Edzard’s father Ernst and his sister Tieth, despite what Wassenbergh believed. In fact, the portrait of Tieth bears the signature of Johannes Heijmans (c. 1640-1680). Her portrait and the pendant of her brother Ernst can therefore be attributed to that painter. 

The oeuvre

On the other hand, in the last few decades a number of paintings have come to light which, because they are signed by De Geest, can be added to Wassenbergh’s list. These are the Portrait of a man holding a skull, Family portrait of Alexander Stewart (?-1704), his wife Anne Hamilton (1658-1722) and their children, a Still life of fish with a plaice, a crab and a sturgeon, and the Portrait of Tjalling Goffe van Camstra (?-1725). In 1951 the Fries Museum also recognised the unsigned portrait of Tjalling’s sister Suzanna Maria, who died as a child, as from the hand of De Geest. Kaya’s research allowed her to conclude that De Geest’s oeuvre – as far as we know – now comprises eleven paintings, of which nine are portraits, besides one still life and one history painting. For the majority of the paintings we know who the commissioner was. Just like his father, De Geest seems to have worked mainly for the Frisian nobility.

Kaya Verkooijen is studying art history at the University of Utrecht and is writing her Masters dissertation on a family portrait by the little-known Leiden flower painter Jan Mortel. She worked as intern at the RKD for three months, doing research on seventeenth-century Friesian portrait painters and the oeuvre of Julius de Geest. 

1. Johannes Heijmans, Portrait of Tieth van Harinxma thoe Slooten, 1671, oil on canvas, 116 x 88 cm, private collection
2. Julius de Geest, Portret of Tjalling Goffe van Camstra, 1670, oil on canvas, 116 x 93 cm, private collection
3. Julius de Geest, Portrait of Susanna Maria van Camstra, 1676, oil on canvas, 102 x 132 cm, collection Fries Museum, Leeuwarden