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.
Traditionally, Old Woman Plucking a Fowl has been associated with a work listed in the 1734 sale of paintings owned by Willem Six, where "Een Hoenderwyf, van Rembrant" (A vendor of fowl, by Rembrandt) was purchased for 165 guilders. No one would confuse this painting as it looks today with a work by Rembrandt. It was reworked in the eighteenth century and then heavily restored in the early twentieth century. With so many layers of overpaint, it is virtually impossible to determine the original character of the image. The dead bird on the woman’s lap, which has survived fairly well intact, is the sole exception. The vigorous execution of this animal does reveal a boldness of touch that provides a glimpse of the qualities that the rest of the painting may originally have possessed.
The early history of Old Woman Plucking a Fowl is not known with certainty. Traditionally this painting has been associated with a work listed in the 1734 sale of paintings owned by Willem Six, where “Een Hoenderwyf, van Rembrant” was purchased by Wilkins for 165 fl. (see Provenance).
I would like to thank Quint Gregory for helping reconstruct this provenance.
Frank Simpson, “Dutch Paintings in England before 1760,” The Burlington Magazine 95 (January 1953): 42.
The provenance of this painting was confused by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. Edward G. Hawke, 8 vols. (London, 1907–1927), 6:176–177, no. 298, with that of another work owned by the Marchese Riccardi in Florence, where it was exhibited in 1737 and 1767. A description of the Riccardi painting in 1764 by Edward Gibbon clearly indicates that the composition was different. Edward Gibbon, Gibbon’s Journey from Geneva to Rome: His Journal from 20 April to 2 October 1764, ed. Georges A. Bonnard (London, 1961), 205, visited the Riccardi Palace in Florence on August 10, 1764, and saw, among other paintings he describes: “4. Un Rembrandt. Une Vielle femme qui deplume une poule. Quel sujet mais quelle veritè dans l’execution. La Nature elle meme ne rendroit pas mieux la Vielle-elle-meme, les plumes de la poule, la corbeille où elle les recoit et le chauderon où elle doit la cuire, et assurèment dans la nature je les verrois avec bien moins de plaisir.” The Riccardi painting may have been acquired by Sir William Forbes, who bought many of his paintings in Italy. In the sale of his collection on June 2, 1842, he lists An Old Woman Plucking a Fowl by Rembrandt that had come from the collection of Count Lecchi at Brescia. The painting’s dimensions were listed as 5 ft. 9 in. by 5 ft. 1 in. (175.3 x 154.9 cm), substantially larger than the painting in the National Gallery of Art. This painting then may have passed into the collection of Lord Clinton, who exhibited a work of this description in Edinburgh in 1883. This painting’s current location is not known.
Viewed today, this painting would never be confused with a work by Rembrandt; yet an attribution to the master was strongly defended when the painting surfaced in a Paris sale in 1912. It had previously been known only to the most important Rembrandt scholars of the day, Wilhelm von Bode, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, and Abraham Bredius, through reproductive mezzotints, among them the one made by Houston. The painting’s appearance generated much interest, and it was acquired by the Paris dealer Francis Kleinberger for a substantial price. Of the three scholars mentioned above, only Bredius demurred at the attribution, arguing that the painting was a workshop production, one of those paintings listed in Rembrandt’s 1656 inventory as being retouched by Rembrandt.
Abraham Bredius, "On Two Paintings Usually Ascribed to Rembrandt," The Burlington Magazine 11 (June 1912): 164. None of the paintings so listed in the inventory, however, can be specifically identified with this work. See Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 349–388, doc. 1656/12. For the dispute between Bredius and Charles Sedelmeyer about the attribution of this painting, see Catherine B. Scallen, Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship (Amsterdam, 2004), 233–234, 252, 367 note 75, 370 note 27.
Bredius’ comments initiated an exchange of letters in The Burlington Magazine with Kleinberger, who vigorously defended the attribution to Rembrandt.
F. Kleinberger, letter to the editor, The Burlington Magazine 11 (July 1912): 296–297.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, "Nieuw Ontdekte Rembrandts, II," Onze Kunst 22 (December 1912): 178–180.
See inventory no. A 3981 from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; see inventory no. 1561 from the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden.
Just what transpired in Hauser’s studio is unknown. No records have been preserved that allow any judgment about the layers of paint he removed and the extent of overpainting he then added.
Partial X-radiographs of the painting exist (head, left hand, and dead fowl) [see
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Rembrandt: Wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910–1920), 2nd ed., Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben (Berlin and Leipzig, 1923), pl. 50: “dabei wurden einzelne wesentliche Teile erganzt.”
The vigorous execution of this animal does reveal a boldness of touch that provides a glimpse of the qualities that the rest of the painting may originally have possessed.
As late as 1966 Jakob Rosenberg still maintained that the dead fowl had been painted by Rembrandt (letter, April 25, 1966, in NGA curatorial files).
Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 4:2364, no. 1592b, 2374 repro.
Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 4:2365, no. 1595, 2377 repro. Bernhard Schnackenburg, in Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch, and Pieter van Thiel, Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop: Paintings (New Haven and London, 1991), 371, however, argues that the painting is too good for Van der Pluym, and attributes it to
The information available, however, is not sufficient to attribute this heavily overpainted work to Van der Pluym. Neither of the comparative works mentioned above is signed or dated, so their attributions to Van der Pluym should be understood as tentative. Moreover, other artists in the Rembrandt circle during the 1650s, including Gerrit Willemsz Horst (1612–1652), Abraham van Dijck (1635/1636–1672), Heyman Dullaert (1636–1684), and
Abraham Bredius, “Darf die Kritik sich nicht mit Bildern in Privatbesitz befassen?” Kunstchronik 24, no. 20 (February 1913), noted that in 1676 “een hoenderwyff van Drost” was in the Spaaroogh Collection in Amsterdam.
Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 2:1387–1417, discusses Horst; Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 1:666–711, discusses Van Dyck; and Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau in der Pfalz, 1983), 1:652–665, discusses Dullaert.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Possibly Willem Six [1662-1733], Amsterdam; possibly (his estate sale, Amsterdam, 12 May 1734, no. 170); possibly Wilkins. Possibly John(?) or W.(?) Blackwood; possibly (his sale, Mr. Prestage, London, unknown dates in 1757, 2nd day, no. 70). Francis Charteris, de jure 7th earl of Wemyss [1723-1808], Gosford House, Longniddry, East Lothian, Scotland; Ralph Willett [1719-1795], Great Canford, Dorset; bequeathed to his cousin, John Willett Adye [d. 1815], who later assumed the surname Willett in lieu of Adye; (his sale, Peter Coxe & Co., London, 31 May-2 June 1813, 2nd day, no. 62, bought in); (sale, Christie's, London, 8 April 1819, no. 124); Anthony Stewart [1773-1846], London; sold to Andrew Geddes [1789-1844], London, by December 1820; (sale, Christie & Manson, London, 23 May 1835, no. 94, bought in); by inheritance to his wife, Mrs. Andrew Geddes; (Geddes estate sale, Christie & Manson, London, 8-12 and 14 April 1845, 5th day [12 April], no. 646, bought in); (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 30 November 1867, no. 53); (Alimonde). Étienne-Edmond Martin, baron de Beurnonville [1825-1906]; (his sale, by Paul Chevallier, Paris, 3 June 1884 and days following, no. 295). Madame Levaigneur, Paris; (her estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 2-4 May 1912, no. 29); (F. Kleinberger & Co., Paris and New York); (Kleinberger sale, American Art Association, New York, 18 November 1932, no. 50); (L.J. Marion); Dr. and Mrs. Walter Timme, Cold Spring, New York; gift 1956 to NGA.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1861, no. 17.
- The Thirteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters. Paintings by Rembrandt, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1930, no. 31.
- Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 7(1836):70, no. 164.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Catalogue of pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, Franch, and English masters. Exh. cat. British Institution, London, 1861: 8, no. 17.
- Dutuit, Eugène. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt. Paris, 1881: 3, no. 385.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. 8 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. Paris, 1897-1906: 8:158, no. 18, repro.
- 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):176-177, no. 298.
- 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):150-151, 298.
- "A Rembrandt Controversy." Boston Evening Transcript (21 August 1912): 15.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. "Neu entdeckte und wiedererstandene Gemälde von Rembrandt." Der Cicerone 4 (1912): 504-508, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham, and Francis Kleinberger. "Letters to the Editor. 'The Old Woman Plucking a Fowl' from the Levaigneur Collection." The Burlington Magazine 22, no. 116 (November 1912): 121-122.
- Bredius, Abraham. "Letter to the Editor. 'The Old Woman Plucking a Fowl' from the Levaigneur Collection." The Burlington Magazine 21, no. 114 (September 1912): 359–360.
- Bredius, Abraham. "On Two Paintings Usually Ascribed to Rembrandt." The Burlington Magazine 21, no. 111 (June 1912): 164–169, repro. 165.
- Dell, Robert E. (R.E.D.). "Art in France." The Burlington Magazine 21, no. 109 ( April 1912): 113.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "Nieuw Ontdekte Rembrandts, II." Onze Kunst 22 (December 1912): 174, 178-181, pl. 2.
- "Illustrated Catalogues of Sales in May." The Burlington Magazine 21, no. 110 (May 1912): 122.
- Kleinberger, Francis. "Letter to the Editor. 'The Old Woman Plucking a Fowl' from the Levaigneur Collection." The Burlington Magazine 21, no. 112 (July 1912): 296-297, repro. 248.
- Kleinberger, Francis. "Letter to the Editor. 'The Old Woman Plucking a Fowl' from the Levaigneur Collection." The Burlington Magazine 22, no. 115 (October 1912): 49-50.
- "Rembrandt’s ‘Woman Plucking a Fowl'." The Connoisseur 33 (June 1912): 138.
- Bredius, Abraham. "Darft die Kritik sich nicht mit Bildern in Privatbesitz befassen?" Kunstchronik 24, no. 20 (February 1913): 273–276.
- Graves, Algernon. A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813–1912. 5 vols. London, 1913-1915: 3(1914):1008, no. 17.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910-1922). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: x, xix, 45, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910–1920). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. 2nd ed. Berlin, 1923: x, xix, 45, repro. (also 1923 2nd ed: xv, xxiv, 50, repo.).
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Important Rembrandts in American Collections." Art News 28, no. 30 (26 April 1930): 4, 84, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The thirteenth loan exhibition of old masters, paintings by Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Detroit Institute of Arts, 1930: no. 31, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: no. 67, pl. 67.
- Simpson, Frank. "Dutch Paintings in England before 1760." The Burlington Magazine 95, no. 599 (January 1953): 40, 42.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 111, as by Rembrandt.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 98, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Salvadori, Fabia Borromi. "Le Esposizioni d'Arte à Firenze, 1674-1767." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 18 (1974): 115.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 292, repro., as Manner of Rembrandt.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 335, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 326-330, repro. 327.
- Smailes, Helen, Peter Black, and Lesley Stevenson. Andrew Geddes, 1783-1844, painter-printmaker: 'a man of pure taste'. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2001: 48-50, fig. 38.
- Scallen, Catherine. Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship. Amsterdam, 2004: 233-234, fig. 56, 252, 367 n. 75, 370 n. 27.
The medium-weight, plain-weave fabric support consists of two pieces seamed vertically at the left. It has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Diagonal marks from a tool used to apply the thick white ground are visible in the X-radiographs. The paint was applied both thickly and thinly in dry opaque pastes, with colored glazes applied over lighter base tones. Dry brushstrokes of varying length create impasto in light areas, such as the feathers. Extensive glazing was employed in the dark passages to model forms and shadows, and impart a dark, glowing appearance.
Thin paint layers and glazes, particularly in the dark passages, are severely abraded and covered by discolored inpainting. The extent of repaint is difficult to determine precisely due to the heavy, discolored surface coating. An old lining was removed and the painting was relined, varnished, and inpainted in 1956-1957. The painting had previously been treated by Professor A. Hauser in 1912 and, based on photographs, possibly one other time between 1912 and its acquisition in 1956. It is interesting to note that in a mezzotint of the painting from the mid-eighteenth century both of the woman’s hands are visible above the fowl, but in photographs taken after the 1912 restoration, the woman’s proper left hand is no longer depicted. Hofstede de Groot wrote that Hauser noted that both of the woman’s hands were overpainted. Presumably, the woman’s left hand was entirely a later fabrication and, consequently, Hauser removed it.
 See the entry text for more information about the restorations prior to 1956.
 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, "Nieuw Ontdekte Rembrandts, II," Onze Kunst 22 (December 1912): 178–180.
Related IconClass Terms
- looking downwards
- old woman
- chicken +used symbolically
- conservation of a work of art
- aritst +Karel van der Pluym