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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Anonymous Artist, Rembrandt van Rijn/Head of an Aged Woman/1655/1660,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/1203 (accessed December 19, 2014).

 

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Overview

After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.

Rembrandt and members of his workshop frequently painted tronies, informal bust-length figure studies that were not considered to be portraits. The large number of such studies that have survived from Rembrandt's workshop indicates that the creation of tronies was one way by which the master taught his manner of painting. In this small tronie, an old woman stares out from under a white headpiece, her black cape fastened at the neck. Rembrandt's paintings of old women from the mid-1650s served as models for the student who created this particular panel. Abraham van Dijck (1635/1636–1672), who seems to have studied with Rembrandt in the early 1650s, is the most likely artist of this painting. The same model appears in several other of Van Dijck’s works, in particular his The Old Prophetess, c. 1655–1660, now in the Hermitage.

Entry

Informal bust-length figure studies, called tronies in the seventeenth century, were frequently painted by Rembrandt and members of his workshop.[1] This small oil sketch of a wizened old woman is a painting of this type. The sitter stares out from under a white headpiece, her black cape fastened at the neck. The woman’s wrinkled visage is expressed with dense paints applied vigorously with a stiff brush. At the edge of the strokes are crisp and definite ridges, a characteristic of alla prima painting, which is also evident in the X-radiographs [fig. 1] [see X-radiography]. This technique is particularly apparent along the decorative pattern at the lower edge of the headpiece, which has been created by pushing a firm object, perhaps even a brush, into the wet paint. In contrast to the thick impastos on the face and headpiece, the black cape is thinly painted and summarily indicated. Surprisingly, the background is vigorously painted, particularly in the upper region. The paint in the background around the head is actually thicker than that of the thinly executed black cape.

The attribution of this painting to Rembrandt dates to at least 1765, when it was engraved in reverse by J. H. Bause. At that time it and a male pendant were in the Gottfried Winkler Collection in Leipzig.[2] Nevertheless, despite the expressive character of the tronies of this old woman, its attribution seems impossible for stylistic reasons. As Edith Standen implied in her notes on the painting when it was in Widener’s collection, the compositional arrangement is rather awkward. Standen wrote: “Lower part unconvincing; head does not seem to join body, set of shoulders seems wrong.”[3] As noted in the catalog of the Gallery’s 1969 exhibition, the painting “differs markedly from the rest of Rembrandt’s work, and it has not yet been possible to relate this study to any of his other paintings.”[4] Stechow questioned the authenticity of the signature and date in 1937,[5] and Gerson, in 1969, published that they were forged.[6] Gerson also thought that the painting did not resemble “the style of Rembrandt’s authentic oil sketches.”

While the signature and date, 1657, differ markedly from Rembrandt’s own, there is no technical evidence that they were applied after the execution of the painting. In any event, it would appear that the sketch was executed in the latter half of the 1650s. Dendrochronological examination [see dendrochronology] has established the felling date for the tree from which the panel was made as between 1637 and 1643. Thus one can with some assurance conclude that the work was painted during Rembrandt’s lifetime. The large number of such tronies that have survived from Rembrandt’s workshop indicates that he encouraged his students to paint such studies directly from the model. This direct manner of painting helps explain the bold brushwork and intense scrutiny of the aged woman’s expressive face that is evident in this work. Rembrandt’s paintings of old women from the mid-1650s, among them An Old Woman in a Hood, 1654 (Pushkin Museum, Moscow), and An Old Woman in an Armchair, 1654 (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), would also have served as pictorial models.[7]

The old woman depicted in this painting also appears in a number of works by Abraham van Dijck (1635/1636–1672), in particular his The Old Prophetess, c. 1655–1660, now in the Hermitage.[8] Although the harsh angular style of the oil sketch is not characteristic of the more finished works by this artist, it is entirely possible that he could have painted in such a manner when executing a preliminary oil sketch. Until more information is known about the full range of his work, however, it is not possible to offer more than an initial suggestion of this artist, who seems to have studied with Rembrandt in the early 1650s. If the painting were, in fact, executed by Van Dijck, then it almost certainly was painted after he had left Rembrandt’s workshop and had begun painting on his own.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

center left by a later hand: Rembrandt / f.1657

  • Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Probably H. Verschuring, The Hague, by 1751. Gottfried Winkler [1731-1795], Leipzig, by 1765.[1] Possibly with (Stéphane Bourgeois [Bourgeois Frères], Paris), in 1893/1894.[2] Rodolphe Kann [1845-1905], Paris, by 1898;[3] purchased 1907 with the entire Kann collection by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[4] sold to (F. Kleinberger & Co., Paris);[5] by exchange to (Leo Nardus [1868-1955], Suresnes, France, and New York); by exchange early 1909 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[6] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1898
Rembrandt: schilderijen bijeengebracht ter gelegenheid van de inhuldiging van Hare Majesteit Koningin Wilhelmina, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1898, no. 100.
1969
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 8, repro., as by Rembrandt.

Bibliography

1752
Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 2 vols. The Hague, 1752: 2:482.
1768
Kreuchauf, Franz Wilhelm. Historische Erklaerungen der Gemaelde welche Herr Gottfried Winkler in Leipzig gesammelt. Leipzig, 1768: 201, no. 495.
1829
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 7(1836):182, no. 572.
1893
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris, 1893: 563.
1894
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. 2 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. New York, 1894: 2:238.
1897
Bode, Wilhelm von, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. 8 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. Paris, 1897-1906: 6:26, 176, no. 472, repro., 8: 377.
1898
Hofstede de Groot, Comelis. Rembrandt: Collection des oeuvres du maître réunies, à l’occasion de l’inauguration de S. M. la Reine Wilhelmine. Exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1898: no. 100.
1899
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn and His Work. London, 1899: 82, 158.
1900
Bode, Wilhelm von. Gemälde-sammlung des Herrn Rudolf Kann in Paris. Vienna, 1900: no. 6, repro.
1904
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart, 1904: 210, repro.
1906
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906: repro. 320.
1907
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn. The great masters in painting and sculpture. London, 1907: 78, 136.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 6(1916):255, 258, nos. 508, 518.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 6(1915):224, 227, no. 508.
1907
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. New York, 1907: 320, repro.
1907
Sedelmeyer, Charles. Catalogue of Rodolphe Kann Collection. 2 vols. Paris, 1907: 1:iv, 76, no. 75, repro.
1908
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1908: repro. 440.
1909
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909: repro. 440.
1913
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, no. 36, repro., as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
1913
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. 2nd ed. New York, 1913: repro. 440.
1914
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The Art of the Low Countries. Translated by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Garden City, NY, 1914: 248, no. 74.
1921
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 440, repro.
1923
Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 201, no. 383A.
1923
_Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1931
_Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 52, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1931
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: no. 131, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 392, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 392, repro.
1936
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 392, repro.
1942
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:no. 392; 2:repro.
1942
National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6, as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
1948
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 42, repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
1957
Duveen, James Henry. The Rise of the House of Duveen. New York, 1957: 234.
1959
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 42, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 313, repro., as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 110, as by Rembrandt.
1966
Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 15, no. 273, repro.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 98, repro.
1969
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 301, 581, no. 392.
1969
National Gallery of Art. Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art: Commemorating the tercentenary of the artist's death. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1969: 18, no. 8, repro.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 288, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1976
Fowles, Edward. Memories of Duveen Brothers. London, 1976: 52, 205.
1976
Hoet, Gerard. Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen. 3 vols. Reprint of 1752 ed. with supplement by Pieter Terwesten, 1770. Soest, 1976: 2:482.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 334, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 330-333, color repro. 331.
2002
Quodbach, Esmée. "The Last of the American Versailles: The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002): 71.
2007
Lopez, Jonathan. "‘Gross False Pretenses’: The Misdeeds of Art Dealer Leo Nardus." Apollo ser. 2, 166, no. 548 (December 2007): 80-81, fig. 9.

Technical Summary

The support is a single, uncradled oak board with a vertical grain, cut from a tree felled between 1637 and 1643.[1] A vertical split caused a dislevel in the panel at the top edge in the center. A small, 1.3 x 0.5 cm, loss of paint and ground layers occurred there when the wood surface was mechanically planed. The left and right edges appear to have been planed, slightly reducing the panel’s horizontal dimensions.

A thin, smooth, white ground layer covering the panel lies under a reddish brown locally applied layer. This layer, which must have been left as a reserve for the woman’s robe, is still visible in that area. The paint was applied freely with very loose brushwork, considerable impasto, and rapid scumbles. The paint was worked wet-into-wet in rapid succession, with the face painted first, followed by the background. Small losses are found in the dark background at the right and along the edges, and mild abrasion has occurred in the thin, dark passages. The painting was treated in 1992 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting. At that time overpaint removed from the dark right background revealed a pentimento in the placement of the woman’s shoulder.

[1] Dendrochronology was performed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg (see report dated September 28, 1987, in NGA Conservation department files).

Related IconClass Terms

31B6251
wrinkles
31D17
old woman
48A2
attribution
48B
aritst +Abraham van Dijck
48B11
studio
61B1
portraiture
61B11
tronie

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Head of an Aged Woman
  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 1] X-radiograph composite, Rembrandt Workshop, Head of an Aged Woman, 1655/1660, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.64
    Compare Image
  • [1]

    Several of these appear in the 1656 inventory of Rembrandt’s collection. See Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 349–388, especially nos. 105, 115, 118, and 294.

  • [2]

    Although the painting is described as being in the Gottfried Winkler Collection in Leipzig, Bause, for some reason, dedicated his print to Johann Jacob Haid of Augsburg. See this object, Provenance note 1.

  • [3]

    Handwritten notes by Edith Standen (Widener’s secretary for art), from the Widener Collection records, in NGA curatorial files.

  • [4]

    Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death] (Washington, 1969), no. 18.

  • [5]

    Stechow’s verbal comments were recorded by Edith Standen (Widener’s secretary for art) in her notes (in NGA curatorial files).

  • [6]

    Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 581, no. 392.

  • [7]

    See Br. 383 from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow; and Br. 381 from the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg. An earlier prototype that might also have been influential is Rembrandt’s etching Sick Woman with a Large White Head-dress, c. 1640–1641 (B. 359).

  • [8]

    Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 1:671, no. 367. Van Dijck was probably a pupil of Rembrandt’s in the early 1650s, although nothing definite is known about the exact period of his apprenticeship. Sumowski dates the Hermitage painting 1655/1660 on the basis of comparisons with Van Dijck’s few dated works. The same model appears frequently in his oeuvre: see Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 1: nos. 370, 372, 375, 377. An oil sketch on panel (23.8 x 20 cm) representing the same model in a similar headpiece was in a private collection in Ontario in 1973 (photograph in NGA curatorial files).