As she leans over the gate of a wooden fence a young girl stares directly at the viewer. In her left hand is a broom. The fence appears to surround a well, whose dark, round form is visible in the foreground. The well is flanked by a large overturned bucket on the right and a dark object, perhaps a trough, on the left. While the girl’s form is lit strongly from the left, the dark background and even the area around the well remain relatively undefined and obscured in shadow.
This entry is a revised version of the text that appeared in the Nationalmuseum catalog of Rembrandt och Hans Tid [Rembrandt and His Age] (Stockholm 1992), no. 83, and the symposium papers published thereafter (Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “A Girl with a Broom: A Problem of Attribution,” in Görel Cavalli-Björkman, ed., Rembrandt and His Pupils [Stockholm, 1993], 142–155). I have benefited greatly from my many conversations with Susanna Pauli Griswold about the issues discussed in this entry. I would also like to thank Dennis Weller and Melanie Gifford for their helpful comments.
A Girl with a Broom, in large part because of the appealing features of the young girl and the genre-like character of the subject, has long been admired as one of Rembrandt’s most sensitive depictions of figures from his immediate environs. This attractive model has been identified repeatedly as a young servant girl in Rembrandt’s household, but her identity remains unknown.
This identification was first proposed by Émile Michel, Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps, 2 vols. (New York, 1893), 1:75. It was reiterated by, among others, Otto Benesch, “The Rembrandt Paintings in the National Gallery of Art,” Art Quarterly 6 (Winter 1943): 26.
Computer examinations of the physical characteristics of the heads in these two paintings have been undertaken at the National Gallery of Art. The results have reinforced the notion that the model was identical. I am particularly indebted to Ambrose Liao and Donna Mann for their enthusiastic research on this project.
Whether this work was meant as a portrait or as a genre scene has been a matter of some discussion. Should it have been possible to identify the girl, the painting would almost certainly be classified as a portrait because of the frontal pose and careful depiction of the features.
See, for example, Rembrandt’s Titus at His Desk, 1655 (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, inv. no. 512), which would probably be classified as a genre scene where the sitter not known.
Susan Koslow, “Frans Hals’s Fisherboys: Exemplars of Idleness,” Art Bulletin 57 (September 1975): 429, has associated the crossed-arm pose of the girl with idleness. This interpretation, however, is not convincing. The type of well depicted appears to be similar to that in The Village Holiday by Daniel Teniers the Younger (1610–1690) (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, no. 56–23). In this painting a broom and a bucket stand adjacent to the well.
Recent scholars have doubted the attribution to Rembrandt and some have even speculated that the painting is eighteenth century in origin.
Virtually all scholars since Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 580, no. 378, have doubted the attribution to Rembrandt.
The primary reason that A Girl with a Broom has been associated with eighteenth-century images is its physical appearance. The surface is deformed in areas, particularly in the face and hands, by pronounced
Small furrows and ridges in paint or fabric due to shrinkage, folding, or compression.
Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 580, no. 378 wrote: “The surface is composed of small particles of paint curling slightly at the edges, such as one observes on pictures which have been exposed to extraordinary heat or on pictures of the eighteenth century. The latter possibility, in the present state of Rembrandt research, should not be excluded.” The issue was further taken up by Hubert von Sonnenburg, “Maltechnische Gesichtspunkte zur Rembrandtforschung,” Maltechnik-Restauro 82 (1976): 12. Von Sonnenburg associated the “gerunzelte Farbschicht” with that found in eighteenth-century English paintings. This effect, he wrote, resulted from an excess of drying oil or from the character of the medium itself. He questioned whether the painting had been made by a follower of Rembrandt and called for a serious scientific analysis of the work.
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
I would particularly like to thank Karin Groen, who analyzed a group of samples taken from this painting and confirmed the assessment of the problem developed by the Scientific Research department at the National Gallery of Art (letter, December 4, 1992, in NGA curatorial files). She specifically noted that medium-rich paint (high oil content) can be observed in many of the layers. A dark brown underlayer, sandwiched between medium-rich layers, contains manganese, probably in the form of umber, which promotes a fine type of wrinkling. Layers near the surface contain cobalt, which promotes surface drying. Once the surface dries prior to the drying of the underlying layers, wrinkling of the paint occurs. She also noted the presence of vermilion near the proper right hand that belonged to the later change in the composition.
Although the existence of an earlier form beneath the girl’s head is fairly easy to distinguish in the X-radiographs, evidence of an underlying layer is more difficult to discern for the rest of the body. Nevertheless, an earlier shape for the blouse, blocked in with paints with little density, can be distinguished in various places.
The X-radiographs [see
The thumb is also visible in the X-radiographs.
Whatever the explanation for the unusual nature of the paint in the flesh areas, neither technical nor visual evidence provides an argument for removing A Girl with a Broom from the immediate orbit of Rembrandt.
Although a comparable wrinkling effect is not found in the impastos of paintings by Rembrandt, similar problems do exist in the backgrounds of at least two of his works, Abduction of Proserpine (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin; Br. 463), and Alexander (City Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; Br. 480).
Notwithstanding the inherent qualities of A Girl with a Broom, a close comparison of it with two comparable paintings by Rembrandt—Girl at a Window, 1645, in Dulwich
Significant stylistic differences also exist between A Girl with a Broom and Rembrandt’s Servant Girl at a Window
The contrasts in manner of execution between A Girl with a Broom and both of these related paintings are so intrinsic to an artistic approach that it seems improbable that A Girl with a Broom was executed by the same hand. The differences between the Washington and Dulwich paintings are such that it does not seem possible to account for them by differences of date, even if the Dulwich painting were executed in 1645 and the Gallery’s painting in 1651. It is even more improbable that Rembrandt would have created such different images as the Washington and Stockholm paintings in the same year. The signature and date of A Girl with a Broom, moreover, are certainly suspect. Although there is no evidence to suggest that they have been added at a later date, they are written in an uncharacteristic form, placed, as they are, around the circular inner edge of the well.
The signature appears to be integral with the paint surface, and no varnish has been found between it and the underlying paint.
It is a curious coincidence that the Stockholm Servant Girl at a Window is also dated 1651. Both paintings were in France in the eighteenth century, as was the Dulwich painting. One of these three paintings may have been the work described by Roger de Piles in the preface to his Cours de Peinture par Principes (Paris, 1708), 10–11, as quoted in Seymour Slive, Rembrandt and His Critics, 1630–1730 (The Hague, 1953), 129: “Rembrandt diverted himself one day by making a portrait of his servant in order to exhibit it at his window and deceive the eyes of the pedestrians. . . . While in Holland I was curious to see the portrait. I found it painted well and with great strength. I bought it and still exhibit it in an important position in my cabinet.”
Few specifics are known about the nature of Rembrandt’s workshop in the late 1640s and early 1650s. Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), in his Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (Rotterdam, 1678), indicates that he was active in the master’s workshop before he returned to his native city of Dordrecht in April 1648. The fellow students he mentions were
Although no documentary proof has survived that clarifies the different roles of student and assistant in Rembrandt’s workshop during the 1640s, the more advanced of his students, for example Hoogstraten and Fabritius, would have worked as assistants in the workshop after they finished their apprenticeship.
Fabritius seems to have studied with Rembrandt in the early 1640s before returning to Midden-Beemster in 1643. Virtually nothing is known about him during the late 1640s, but it seems unlikely that he remained in Midden-Beemster the entire time without continuing his contact with Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Midden-Beemster is only about thirty kilometers from Amsterdam and was a community that had many ties with Amsterdam. In 1648 or 1649 Fabritius painted the portrait of a wealthy Amsterdam silk merchant, Abraham de Potter (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. A1591). By 1650 he had moved to Delft. For further information on Fabritius see Christopher Brown, Carel Fabritius (Oxford, 1981), and Frederik J. Duparc, Carel Fabritius, 1622–1654 (The Hague and Schwerin, 2004).
In this respect their relationship to Rembrandt would have been much the same as that of Anthony van Dyck to Peter Paul Rubens during the late 1610s. In those years Van Dyck simultaneously painted in Rubens’ style when working in Rubens’ studio and in his own personal style when painting in his own workshop.
A Girl with a Broom fits into this scenario. It is one of a number of paintings loosely derived from Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window in Dulwich. Hoogstraten was particularly fond of this compositional type, if one is to judge from his late 1640s Young Man in a Hat, at a Half-Door in the Hermitage.
Young Man in a Hat, at a Half-Door is not signed. It was first attributed to Hoogstraten by Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau i.d. Pfalz, 1983), 2:1339, no. 856. The painting was also cataloged as by Hoogstraten in Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch, and Pieter van Thiel, Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop: Paintings (New Haven and London, 1991), 356, no. 74.
The painting was included in Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch, and Pieter van Thiel, Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop: Paintings (New Haven and London, 1991), 350, no. 72, as by Hoogstraten. I would like to thank Martha Wolff at the Art Institute for her observations about the differences in technique between these two paintings and for sending me detailed photographs of the Chicago painting. In addition to the Chicago painting, another Rembrandt School painting from this period, depicting a young boy leaning against a metal railing, is in the Cincinnati Art Museum. See Mary Ann Scott, Dutch, Flemish, and German Paintings in the Cincinnati Art Museum (Cincinnati, 1987), 107–110, no. 38.
The artist in Rembrandt’s circle during this period who was most capable of both the nuanced modeling of the face and hands and the rough bravura brushwork found in the sleeves was Carel Fabritius, but specific comparisons with other works by him are difficult to make because few paintings can be firmly attributed to him during the mid-1640s. Thus only a tentative attribution to him is suggested.
In 1993, at my suggestion, the attribution of this painting was changed from “Rembrandt van Rijn” to “Carel Fabritius and Rembrandt Workshop,” and the painting was exhibited as such in Stockholm (Rembrandt och Hans Tid [Rembrandt and His Age] [Stockholm, 1992], no. 83). The Fabritius attribution, however, was not generally accepted. A number of colleagues felt that insufficient comparative material existed to make a firm attribution. Walter Liedtke, “Stockholm: Rembrandt and His Age” (review of the exhibition Rembrandt och Hans Tid), The Burlington Magazine 124 (December 1992): 829–830, believes that the artist of the Chicago painting (fig. 5), which he attributes to Samuel van Hoogstraten, also executed A Girl with a Broom. Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (personal communication, 1993) would prefer to leave the attribution of the Washington painting as “anonymous.”
One other painting can be brought into this discussion, a Portrait of a Woman attributed to Fabritius by the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP).
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), C107. The painting and its pendant (Br. 251), which are traditionally identified as portraits of Adriaentje Hollaer and her husband, the painter Hendrick Martensz Sorgh, are in the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. See also Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 291, no. 370.
For a detail photograph of the hands of the Portrait of a Woman see Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 677, fig. 4.
The hypothesis that A Girl with a Broom could have been created during the mid-to-late 1640s by Fabritius in response to Rembrandt’s Girl at a Window, however, needs to remain extremely tentative because of the 1651 date inscribed on the painting. Fabritius almost certainly would not have added the signature and date because he had moved to Delft in 1650. It is possible, however, that the image was reworked and brought to completion by another artist at this date. The basis for this hypothesis is the stylistic discrepancy that exists between the execution of the broom, the bucket, and even the fence surrounding the well, and that of the figure. Neither the broom nor the bucket is executed with the same surety as the figure itself. The tentative brushstrokes do not model the forms with bold accents comparable to those found on the girl’s blouse. The relationships of scale between the girl and these objects are also peculiarly discordant.
Technical evidence seems to support the hypothesis that the broom may have been worked up after the initial blocking in of the figure had occurred. As has been mentioned, an earlier form of the blouse and the girl’s left thumb were painted under the broomstick. Whether or not the broom was part of the original concept is of some debate. In the X-radiographs (see
The only possibility that I can come up with is that the combined forms may have been a reserve for an implement with a horizontal piece at the end of the handle.
An alteration made by the artist to an area that was already painted.
One bit of technical evidence that links the signature and date, the broom, and the bucket concerns their distinctive reddish orange accents, which have a vermilion component. Similar accents also appear on the girl’s curls and on her shoulder to the left of the broom, indicating that these other areas of the painting may have been finalized at this time as well.
This observation has been confirmed through Karin Groen’s analysis of the paint layers. See note 8.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower left on rim of well: Rembrandt f. 1651
Almost certainly Herman Becker [c. 1617-1678], Amsterdam. Pierre Crozat [1665-1740], Paris, before 1740; by inheritance to his nephews, first to Louis-François Crozat, marquis du Châtel [1691-1750], Paris, and then [on Louis-François' death without a male heir] to Louis-Antoine Crozat, baron de Thiers [1699-1770], Paris; the latter's heirs; purchased 1772, through Denis Diderot [1713-1784] as an intermediary, by Catherine II, empress of Russia [1729-1796], for the Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg; sold February 1931, as a painting by Rembrandt, through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 1 May 1937 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
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The original support is a fine, tightly woven, plain-weave fabric, lined with the tacking margins removed. Lining has exaggerated the canvas texture in the paint layer. Cusping on all edges indicates that the dimensions have not been reduced. There are long vertical tears in the fence in the lower left quadrant and at the bottom center to the right of the broom.
The double ground consists of a quartz-type brown lower layer and a thick, translucent brown upper layer. The upper ground is not employed as a mid-tone compositionally. Paint in the figure was applied thickly in broad, short strokes with vigorous brushwork and low impasto, while thin washes define the background. At least two distinct design layers of paint are apparent, with variations in handling. Underneath the present composition, as seen in the X-radiographs and with raking-light examination, is a head, placed directly under the girl’s head, looking upward. The X-radiographs also show minor changes in the girl’s sleeves. Her proper left thumb is visible in the X-radiographs under the broom handle. (For a further discussion of these changes see the entry.)
The upper paint layer was applied within a short time of the first, before the underlying paint had fully dried and without intermediate varnish application. An excess of medium and an improper drying of the paint layers have caused pronounced wrinkling in the upper paint layers, especially in the face and hands.
The paint has suffered abrasion throughout, and many of the glazes in the face have been lost. The painting was treated in 1991–1992 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting.
 The ground and paint were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using polarized light microscopy, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, gas chromatography, cross-sections, and scanning electron microscopy in conjunction with energy dispersive X-ray analysis (see reports dated March 24, 1992, and April 27, 1992, in NGA Conservation department files). The ground and paint were further analyzed by Karin Groen using cross-sections and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (see letter dated December 4, 1992, in NGA Conservation department files, and Karin Groen, "Grounds in Rembrandt’s Workshop and in Paintings by His Contemporaries," in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering [Dordrecht, 2005], 668–669). Groen found the ground to contain quartz.
Related IconClass Terms
- style of hair
- stylistic and formal differentiation of art
- aritst +Karel van der Pluym
- historical person +Hendrickje Stoffels