News #4: The erotic kitchen scene unravelled
Why is the man in the painting wearing an apron – and was that the painter’s original intention with the artwork? Angela Jager and Jørgen Wadum describe their latest research into Nicolas Walraven van Haeften’s Declaration of love, 1702, and the revealing discoveries.
‘Jean, it is very sweet to make love in the kitchen / Marguerite, you start to like it, I see it clearly on your face’
Nicolaes van Haeften, Declaration of love, 1702, inscribed on the reverse: ‘N. van Haeften 1705’. Oil on canvas, 41 x 32 cm.
At first glance, this scene shows a woman in a kitchen interior cleaning vegetables in the company of a man. Looking closer, however, it becomes clear there is a sexual connotation to it. The way she holds the celery stick in the bowl on her lap and looks at the man sitting behind her is rather suggestive. The walls in the background show various curious objects that could be interpreted as referring to sexual intercourse and the male genitals, among others a small bottle holding a feather and a wooden shoe filled with pestles.
The Dutch-born Nicolaes van Haeften (c. 1663-1715) lived in Paris at the time when the Declaration of love was painted. The reverse of the lined canvas bears the inscription ‘N. van Haeften 1705’. This must have been wrongly replicated from the original, as a reproduction print (in reverse) made by Van Haeften is dated 1702, and it is highly unlikely the artist made the painting after the print.
Nicolaes van Haeften, Amourous couple in the kitchen, signed lower left “N. W. van haeften F.” and dated upper left “1702”. Etching, 322 x 255. Amsterdam Rijksmuseum
The print confirms the erotic reading of the scene (fig. 2), as it includes an inscription in French which translates to ‘Jean, it is very sweet to make love in the kitchen / Marguerite, you start to like it, I see it clearly on your face’. In the print the man’s excitement is visible in his pants and not covered with an apron as in the Nivaagaard painting. There are several other small differences, including a drawing attached to the brick wall of a man with a hat en profil. These elements, however, become visible in the Nivaagaard painting when we study it with digital false colour infrared imaging: *
False colour infrared image. J. Wadum
Not only the bulge below the overpaint becomes more readable but we also observe that the overpaint covering the man’s kneeling leg has a distinct darker colour. The colour difference indicates a different pigment composition compared to that seen in his trousers below his stomach. This discovery indicates that these elements have been deliberately covered at a later date, presumably because of their erotic connotation.
The pairing of food and love or sexual desire was not unusual in Dutch art. Judging by Van Haeften’s print and the accompanying French verse, the connection was also understood in France. Genre painters like Gerrit Dou made many paintings with women seductively cleaning or offering food. Food had a long association with lust. The pleasure of eating, tasting and smelling food was understood as a gateway to further bodily indulgences.
* False colour image processing is a non-invasive technique that combines and rearranges the colour channels from one or multiple source images that results in a final composite image. The colours rendered in this resulting image do not match those that would be observed naturally by the human eye. These methods help visualise information not otherwise discernible.
 Discovered during a conservation treatment in 1975.
 Also suggested by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (https://rkd.nl/explore/excerpts/197733) and F. Meijer; Fred G. Meijer, ‘Nicolaes van Haeften, Prints and Paintings’, in: Edwin Buijsen et al. (red.) Kunst op papier in de achttiende eeuw : Liber Amicorum Charles Dumas, 2014, pp. 142-153.
 “Jean il est bien doux, de faire l’amour dans la cuisine / Marguerite vous entrés en goût je le vois bien a vôtre mine”. Translated by A. Lorne.
BY ANGELA JAGER AND JØRGEN WADUM, 15 September 2022
The text is an expression of the discoveries made at the time of publication. We reserve the right to make changes as new information from the still ongoing research project may occur.