Object type





Matthijs Maris artist



Place Associated





oil on canvas


framed: 601 mm x 828 mm x 50 mm 7500 g; unframed: 343 mm x 858 mm


Like many of Matthijs’ Maris’ later paintings, ‘Grief’ is a hazy image, the subject of which can be difficult to ascertain. Beyond a curtain of darkness, a female figure dressed in silvery grey stretches out horizontally, her arms above her head. At the left, below her arms in the foreground, is a crown, which lies discarded on the ground.

When Maris first painted ‘Grief’, it was without a title. This was subsequently provided by Jan Van Wisselingh, an art dealer who represented Maris, and who sold the painting to William Burrell on 15th April 1898. Maris based this painting on a small ink drawing from 1867, which he said was made in Paris. That drawing, which is now lost, shows a woman in despair on the steps of an altar, her face on the floor and arms above her head. The painting has left out the detail of the steps, and instead features a dark, anonymous floor supporting the woman’s desperate pose.

Through such a desolate subject, Maris may be alluding to his own position. Maris bitterly resented what he regarded as the forced surrendering of his artistic values. He alludes to this in a letter to the Amsterdam art dealer Willem Van Meurs, writing “what they call “the girl at the altarsteps” is no picture. It’s my own misfortune that is in it.”

Upon its purchase, Maris informed Burrell that the painting was in fact just a ‘sketch’, and Burrell was promised a second, better version. Finally, in 1912, Burrell gave the work back to the dealer Van Wisselingh, ready to receive Maris’ second version. This was not to be, however: Maris died before he could complete the larger painting, which was the work left on the artist’s easel at his death in 1917. And what of Burrell’s original ‘Grief’? It remained with Van Wisselingh’s widow at her husband’s death in 1912. Remarkably, Burrell had to buy it back in 1928, 30 years after he’d bought it for the first time.

Burrell was particularly keen on the work of Maris, and hung ‘Grief’ above the fireplace of his study. The Burrell collection has one of the world’s largest collections of works by Matthijs Maris: In 1944, Burrell donated 54 works by him and a further 13 by his brother Jacob to the city of Glasgow as part of his generous gift.

Credit Line/Donor

Gifted by Sir William and Lady Burrell to the City of Glasgow, 1944


Burrell Collection: Pictures [Oils, Pastels and Watercolours]

ID Number



Burrell Collection

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