Cornelis Cels

Portrait Of Henriette Cornelia Biben

Cornelis Cels

Portrait Of Henriette Cornelia Biben

This fine early 19th-century portrait by Flemish painter Cornelis Cels (1778-1859) depicts Henriette Cornelia Biben née Nienaber (1793-1877) wearing a blue dress with fur stole.


Imagine, if you will, that you’re the beautiful subject of this portrait, Henriette Cornelia Biben. It’s 1828 and you’ve been married for 15 years to the merchant, Martin Gerard Biben, and he’s commissioned eminent Flemish artist Cornelis Cels to paint your portrait. Cels was highly successful by this time and director of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Tournai. Previously, he’d spent several years working in Rome producing religious works for the Catholic Church and subsequently, various portraits for the Royal Family. Undoubtedly, you’d be a little nervous about his arrival and keen to present the correct image.


During the 1820s, fashion was ever-evolving and, at times, bordering on the absurd. However, any decent society lady would seek to demonstrate their understanding of the latest garb for fear of social exclusion. Hair was a particular challenge as it needed to convey movement and buoyancy as if it had a life of its own. Various knots and loops emerged from the head and were skewed with decorative pins.

Henriette Cornelia Biben was born into a wealthy family and her father, Wilhelmus Anthonius Nienaber, worked as a politician. Her husband Martin Gerard Biben is recorded as a merchant and negotiant. They lived in Amsterdam. Here, we see her at age 35.

Cels trained under Joseph-Benoît Suvée. He was a member of three Academies, the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, Academy of Antwerp, and the Academy of Amsterdam. His works are held in numerous public collections including the Rijksmuseum.

Signed on the left. Held within a 19th-century ebonised frame with gilt inner border.

Learn more about Cornelis Cels in our directory.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 29” x 33 / 73cm x 84cm
Year of creation: 1828
Labels & Inscriptions: Hand-written artist biography.
Condition: Canvas relined. Craquelure but the paint is stable. Minor scratches. One old repair. Frame with some light wear.
Artist’s auction maximum: £5,327

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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