(b Amsterdam, 10 Jan 1588; d Amsterdam, 1650–56).
Pickenoy was one of the most sought after portraitists in Amsterdam, a stature he retained until the arrival of young Rembrandt van Rijn. Later on, he lived next door to his competitor. From his existing paintings, it appears that Pickenoy's style remained the same throughout his career: smooth technique, carefully depicted textiles, and sharp contours with softer shadows that together create an impression of flattering realism. Pickenoy painted group portraits as well as individual portraits, particularly pendants of prominent Amsterdammers. The Getty Museum's pair shows Pickenoy at the height of his abilities. After 1640 Pickenoy's popularity apparently began to fade, for only two of his works from this period survive. Stylistic similarities suggest that Pickenoy was the teacher of Bartholomeus van der Helst, who eventually surpassed Rembrandt as Amsterdam's most popular portrait painter
Dutch painter. He is frequently incorrectly referred to in the literature without his family name. He was a son of the monumental mason Elias Claesz. Pickenoy who had come to Amsterdam from Antwerp. Nicolaes may have studied painting with Cornelis van der Voort, one of the most important portrait painters in Amsterdam, who also originally came from Antwerp. The earliest work attributed to Pickenoy (see 1993–4 exh. cat.) is Anatomy Lesson of Sebastiaen Egbertsz. de Vrij (1619; Amsterdam, Hist. Mus.). Although Pickenoy’s paintings included other subjects, he apparently earned his living primarily as a portrait painter. Soon after 1624 he succeeded to van der Voort’s place as a portrait painter whose work was greatly in demand from the upper-class citizens of Amsterdam.
Pickenoy’s painting style changed little if at all during the 25-year period in which almost all of his surviving works can be placed; it is characterized by fairly sharp contours and softer shadows, combined to give the impression of a somewhat flattering realism. The painter was particularly adroit in the depiction of textiles. No fewer than eight official portraits, three portraits of regents and five group portraits of civic guard companies, survive from the period 1625–45. Although he cannot be considered an innovating influence in group portraiture, he made exceptionally effective compositions, distributing the figures in a way that displays each one to best advantage. Among the finest examples are the civic guard paintings from 1632 and 1639 (Amsterdam, Hist. Mus.), where some of the figures are seated around a table, a composition reflecting the influence of Frans Hals. In 1642 Pickenoy painted a large militia company (Amsterdam, Rijksmus.) for the series of civic guard portraits in the Kloveniersdoelen (Arquebusiers’ or Musketeers’ Hall). Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ was part of the same series. At the time that he painted these portraits Pickenoy was living in Amsterdam in a house in the Anthonisbreestraat, literally next door to Rembrandt.
Pickenoy was also a prolific painter of individual portraits, particularly pendant portraits of prominent Amsterdammers: those of Maerten Rey and Maria Swartenhont (1627; Amsterdam, Rijksmus.) are well known and fairly early examples of this type. Some years later, in the early 1630s, when the painter’s abilities were at their peak, he produced such handsome works as the Portrait of a 27-year-old Man (England, priv. col.) and its pendant, the Portrait of a 21-year-old Woman (Malibu, CA, Getty Mus.), both from 1632. The life-size, full-length portraits of Cornelis de Graeff and Catharina Hooft (c. 1635; Berlin, Bodemus.) are among the most successful examples of this ambitious portrait type, which is not often found in Dutch painting. After 1640 Pickenoy’s popularity apparently began to fade; the only surviving works from this period are two civic guard groups.
In addition to portraits Pickenoy also painted biblical scenes, only a few of which have survived, including the Last Judgement (Cádiz, Mus. Pint.) and the Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (ex-Suermondt-Ludwig-Mus., Aachen, destr. in World War II; a smaller variant is in Utrecht, Catharijneconvent). In these scenes, the painter followed the tradition of history painting in Antwerp in the latter part of the 16th century, himself showing no particular qualities of imagination in the genre. No information survives regarding pupils of Pickenoy but it is probable, on stylistic grounds, that Bartholomeus van der Helst studied with him.
J. Six: ‘Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy’, Oud-Holland, iv (1886), pp. 81–108
P. Dirkse: ‘Een Luthers bijbelstuk door Eliasz. Pickenoy’ [A Lutheran biblical piece by Eliasz. Pickenoy], Antiek, xviii (1983/4), pp. 233–9
S. A. C. Dudok van Heel: ‘De schilder Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy (1588–1650/6) en zijn familie’, Liber amicorum Jhr. Mr. C. C. van Valkenburg (The Hague, 1985), pp. 152–60
Dawn of the Golden Age: Northern Netherlandish Art, 1580–1620 (exh. cat., ed. G. Luijten and others; Amsterdam, Rijksmus., 1993–4), pp. 313, 595–6