Sense of Taste by Michael Sweerts
Portrait emblematic of the sense of Taste by Michael Sweerts sold for €400,000 (£336,135) at Farrando in Paris. Image copyright: Farrando/Drouot.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Two portraits emblematic of two of the five senses, Touch and Taste, sold in Paris in November and December for €520,000 (£444,445) and €400,000 (£336,135) respectively, while an early self-portrait realised SFr520,000 (£405,600) in Switzerland in December.

Sweerts led a much-travelled and eventful life. Born in Brussels in 1618, he went to Italy early in his career, from 1646-54, working in Rome before returning to his native city where he opened a studio. He worked briefly in Amsterdam and then went to Paris where he joined a group of missionaries heading to the near and far east ending up eventually in a Jesuit community in Goa where he died in 1664.

The first of the two ‘sensory’ portraits sold in Paris came up for auction at the Drouot centre in a sale held by Mirabeau Mercier (25% buyer’s premium) on November 15. The 2ft 5ft x 2ft (75 x 60 cm) half-length view of a grimacing man clutching a cat and stroking its head came from the collection of the Parisian art dealer Jean Néger. A ‘rediscovered’ work, the subject represented Touch and came from a set of the five senses known to scholars from black and white photographs.

The €520,000 (£344,830) mid-estimate price is the third highest paid for the artist’s work at auction.

The sense of Touch by Michael Sweerts

Portrait emblematic of the sense of Touch by Michael Sweerts sold for €520,000 (£444,445) at Mirabaud Mercier. Image copyright: Mirabaud Mercier/Drouot.

The second, smaller portrait depicts a young boy with a pomegranate in his hand and is emblematic of the sense of Taste. It was offered for sale at Drouot by the auction firm Farrando (24.9% buyer’s premium) on December 9. At 9.5 x 7in (24 x 18cm),  this work is of the same size as two other portraits of young children both of which are in the Museum Boijnams Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, (one emblematic of Smell, depicting a boy holding an recently extinguished candle, the other with a young girl holding up a bandaged finger representing Touch).

The hitherto unpublished painting offered by Farrando, which was at one time attributed to Gainsborough, had been estimated at €80,000-100,000.


The Sweerts self-portrait came up for sale at a December 11 auction held by Schuler (20/18.6/16.6% buyer’s premium) in Zurich and is thought to have been painted during his time in Italy. The 14 x 12in (36 x30cm) canvas, titled Self-Portrait, Reading, had been hidden from public view since 1959, when it was exhibited in Rome.

It had previously been considered to have been a work by Vermeer; at some stage the initials VM had been added to the painting but were removed by a Swiss restorer prior to 1954. About the same time, an art historian identified it as a work by Sweerts.

Self-portrait by Michael Sweerts

Self-portrait by Michael Sweerts sold for SFr520,000 (£405,600) at Schuler in Zurich.

Since it was purchased in London by a collector from Lausanne in the 1950s, it has passed through several other Swiss collections and it came by descent to the Basel vendor at the Schuler sale. The estimate was set at SFr40,000-60,000 and bidders from many countries hoped for a bargain but the field soon thinned out.

At the close, an international telephone bidder and a collector in the room were left to fight it out with the hammer falling to the phone bidder at SFr520,000. The painting will be staying in Switzerland.