"The story of Hagar is told in Genesis, Chapter 21. Hagar was an Egyptian slave to Abraham with whom she had a son, Ishmael. Abraham's wife became jealous and asked her husband to banish them into the desert. There, they were miraculously saved from dying of thirst by an angel. A print by Frans De Roy of c. 1750 shows there was once an angel in the sky and the infant lying at the bottom of the tree, which were painted out sometime after.

The model is likely to be Rubens’ second wife, Helena Fourment. Despite the Old Testament setting, Fourment is dressed in the fashion and hairstyle of Flanders in the 1630s, making this painting an ambiguous play between portrait and biblical story. "


  • Title: Hagar in the Desert
  • Creator Lifespan: 1577 - 1640
  • Date: After 1630
  • Physical Dimensions: w732 x h726 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: Murray writes: ‘A copy, reasonably attributed to Gainsborough (Mr and Mrs F. marshall Collection, London, 1973), proves that 131 must have reached London before 1788, when Gainsborough died. It shows the picture in more or less its present state. An engraving by F. de Roy, in reverse, of c. 1750, shows it before it was cut down and includes Ishmael and the angel.' [How then to account for its presence in the Laborde sale in 1801? Look at Laborde's collection in bibliography below](2) François(-Louis-Joseph) de Laborde-Méréville(b Paris, 6 June 1761; d Holme Pierpont, 2 Oct 1802). Son of (1) Jean-Joseph de Laborde. He served in the French navy (1779–85) and was appointed Conseiller du Roi and Garde du Trésor Royal in 1786. A freemason, influenced by reforming ideals from North America, he welcomed the French Revolution with enthusiasm, served as a deputy of the Third Estate (non-privilégiés) and took the oath at the Salle de Jeu de Paume, Paris, on 20 June 1789. In 1791 he bought Italian and French paintings from the collection of Louis-Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, to prevent their export from France. Ironically, with the proclamation of the French Republic in 1792, he was obliged to emigrate to England with most of his pictures and, being short of money, was forced to sell them to the banker Jeremiah Harman (?1764–1844) in 1793. The remainder of Laborde-Méréville’s collection was sold by Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun in Paris on 10 August 1803. Among the 41 paintings in that sale were such works as Luca Penni’s Justice of Otto (?1547–56; Paris, Louvre), Guercino’s Erminia and the Shepherd (c. 1619–20; Birmingham, Mus. & A.G.) and Lot and his Daughters (1651; Paris, Louvre) and Laurent de La Hyre’s Death of the Children of Bethel (1653; Arras, Mus. B.-A.), the last three acquired from the 1787 sale of works from the collection of the exiled courtier and patron Joseph-Hyacinthe-François de Paule de Rigaud, Comte de Vaudreuil.BIBLIOGRAPHYC. Stryienski: La Galerie du Régent Philippe, Duc d’Orléans (Paris, 1913), pp. 138–40 F. Boyer: ‘Les Collections de François de Laborde-Méréville (1761–1802)’, Bull. Soc. Hist. A. Fr. (1967), pp. 141–52
  • Work Nationality: Flemish
  • Support: Panel
  • Provenance: Brussels, Augustin de Steenhaut, May 1758, already cut down; Brussels, Borremans, 1781; Paris, Dubois, 1782 (presumably Laborde Collection); François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-MŽrŽville; his sale, London, Christie's, 7 Mar. 1801, lot 49 ('His own Wife, a fine Sketch'). Bt Edward Coxe for £36.15 (although a note in the Coxe sale catalogue has the figure as '35 1/2 Gs'); London, Coxe, 24 Apr. 1807, lot 54 ('The story of Hagar, in a single Figure, and that Figure taken from the Person of Helena Forman, Rubens' Wife; beautifully managed with a silvery tone of color, and is transparency itself -- a most capital Performance, evidently the entire work of Rubens, was purchased at Mr. La Borde's Sale'). Bt George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton for £47.5; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: "Hagar is banished by Abraham to the wilderness with their son Ishmael and left without water. She fears for her son's life until an angel appears, showing her water and proclaiming that Ishmael will be the forefather of a great nation (Genesis XXI, 17-18). DPG131 seems to have been cut down and overpainted. An engraving by Frans De Roy of c.1750 shows the composition extended at the top, with an angel in the sky behind Hagar's head and the prostrate figure of Ishmael in the middle distance on the far left. One wing and the arms of the angel are still faintly discernible, especially in infra-red photographs, though they do not appear in the X-ray. "
  • Artist: Rubens, Sir Peter Paul
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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