Portrait of an Old Man

Hans Memling (Netherlandish, Seligenstadt, active by 1465–died 1494 Bruges)

ca. 1475
Oil on wood
Overall 10 3/8 x 7 5/8 in. (26.4 x 19.4 cm); painted surface 10 x 7 1/4 in. (25.4 x 18.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This sympathetic portrayal of an elderly man once formed a diptych with a portrait of an old woman (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Unlike the devotional portraits of Tommaso and Maria Portinari displayed nearby, the purpose here is entirely secular. Memling depicts his sitter with hands folded and resting gently on a ledge, not joined in prayer. This portrait and its pendant were created to preserve the appearances of the sitters as they neared the end of their lives, a function of portraiture that became increasingly popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Provenance

    private collection, England (until 1895); [Stephan Bourgeois, Cologne, 1895]; Baron Albert Oppenheim, Cologne (1895–1912; cat., 1904, no. 11; to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1912–13; sold for $82,000 to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (d. 1913)

  • Exhibition History

    Bruges. Palais du Gouvernement. "Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien," June 15–September 15, 1902, no. 16 (lent by Baron Albert Oppenheim, Cologne).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Dutch Couples: Pair Portraits by Rembrandt and his Contemporaries," January 23–March 5, 1973, no. 1 (with the "Portrait of an Old Woman," E. A. and P. S. Strauss Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 29.

  • References

    E. Firmenich-Richartz. "Die altniederländischen Gemälde der Sammlung des Freiherrn A. v. Oppenheim zu Köln." Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst 9 (1896), cols. 161–64, pl. V, attributes this portrait to Jan van Eyck; observes that the background and the garment of the sitter have been overpainted; notes that the painting came from an English private collection.

    Ludwig Kaemmerer. Hubert und Jan van Eyck. Bielefeld, 1898, p. 110, pl. 87, as not by Jan van Eyck, but by an artist of a later period.

    Karl Voll. Die Werke des Jan van Eyck. Strasbourg, 1900, p. 122, considers the portrait a pleasant but pedantic work by an artist from the end of the century.

    Georges H. de Loo Palais du Gouvernement, Bruges. Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe siècles: catalogue critique précédé d'une introduction sur l'identité de certains maîtres anonymes. Ghent, 1902, p. 4, no. 16, lists its as erroneously attributed to Jan van Eyck but closer to Memling and possibly from his hand; notes that the hair style alone is evidence that the portrait is too late for Jan.

    Henri Hymans. "L'exposition des primitifs flamands à Bruges (1er article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 28 (August 1902), p. 22, hesitates to accept the attribution to Van Eyck as it appears too free and too late to be his; notes that the piece has exceptional qualities which place it between Dirk Bouts and Memling.

    W. H. James Weale. Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien, Bruges. Première section: tableaux. Catalogue. Exh. cat., Palais du Gouvernement. Bruges, 1902, p. 8, no. 16, lists is as a work by Jan van Eyck but notes (p. XXX) that all attribitions given in the catalogue are those indicated by the owners.

    Max J. Friedländer. "Die Brügger Leihausstellung von 1902." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 26 (1903), pp. 80–81, calls it "an especially fine portrait from Memling's early period" and observes that the hands are particularly characteristic of him; notes that the picture is closely related to Memling's "Portrait of an Old Man" in Berlin [now Gemäldegalerie, Berlin]; observes that the picture is not in a good state of preservation.

    W. H. James Weale. "The Early Painters of the Netherlands as Illustrated by the Bruges Exhibition of 1902, Article III." Burlington Magazine 1 (April 1903), p. 51, finds it too late for Jan van Eyck and thinks that its is probably the work of a German painter.

    Émile Molinier. Collection du Baron Albert Oppenheim: Tableaux et objets d'art. Paris, 1904, p. 5, no. 111, pl. 10, catalogues it as a work of Jan van Eyck.

    [Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert. La peinture en Belgique: Les primitifs flamands. 2, Brussels, 1909, p. 125, ascribes it to Memling.

    Karl Voll. Memling: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1909, pp. 162, 175, ill., lists it among doubtful works and imitations, but asserts that it was made at the end of the 15th century, perhaps by Memling himself.

    Max J. Friedländer. Letter to F. Kleinberger. November 17, 1912, notes that this portrait, along with two others—Memling's "Portrait of a Young Man with an Arrow" (National Gallery, Washington) and the Dieric Bouts "Portrait of a Man" [MMA 14.40.644]—were acquired by Baron Oppenheim, Cologne, from a private collection in England.

    Max J. Friedländer. Letter to F. Kleinberger. June 6, 1912, identifies it as an early Memling and compares it with a portrait of an old woman in the Louvre, Paris.

    Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. New York, 1914, pp. 74–75, no. 50, ill.

    Max J. Friedländer. "The Altman Memlings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Art in America 4, no. 4 (1916), pp. 188–89, 194, ill., notes that the mildness and restraint of expression are entirely in the spirit of Memling's art, and considers Memling's authorship most plainly visible in the drawing of the hand.

    Max J. Friedländer. Von Eyck bis Bruegel: Studien zur Geschichte der Niederländischen Malerei. Berlin, 1916, p. 179.

    Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 240.

    Georges Huisman. Memlinc. Paris, 1923, pp. 107–8, 147, lists it among authentic works which cannot be precisely dated.

    Max J. Friedländer. "Dierick Bouts und Joos van Gent." Die altniederländische Malerei. 3, Berlin, 1925, p. 111, contradicts his November 1912 letter to Kleinberger [see Refs.], stating that the three portraits from the collection of Baron Oppenheimer came from a private collection in Russia [rather than England]; notes that the flesh parts are somewhat abraided.

    Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1928, pp. 42–43, no. 17, ill.

    Max J. Friedländer. "Memling und Gerard David." Die altniederländische Malerei. 6, Berlin, 1928, pp. 45, 131, no. 81, dates it about 1470, noting that in comparison, Memling's works of the 1480s and later are characterized by more secure draftsmanship, stronger modeling and more relaxed poses.

    H[ans]. V[ollmer]. in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 24, Leipzig, 1930, p. 376, lists it as a work of about 1470.

    Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 62–64, ill.

    Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 35–36, 108, attributes it to a German artist active in Bruges around 1450.

    Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 100.

    Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969, p. 110, ill., as by Memling.

    Jack L. Schrader. Letter to Richard Friedman. June 19, 1970, suggests that our painting was a companion piece to the "Portrait of an Old Woman" in the Straus Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

    Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 171 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].

    Max J. Friedländer et al. "Hans Memlinc and Gerard David." Early Netherlandish Painting. 6, New York, 1971, part 1, pp. 29, 55, no. 81, pl. 117.

    Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Werkverzeichnis. Frankfurt, 1980, pp. 17–18, ill., dates it to about 1470.

    Lorne Campbell. Unpublished notes. 1981, calls this portrait "attributed to Memling and in many respects similar to his work"; dates it tentatively to the 1470s; notes that the right hand was at first painted in a different position, foreshortened, and appeared to grasp the frame.

    Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), p. 34, ill. (color), lists it as "attributed to Memling," dates it from the mid- to late 1460s, and identifies the "Portrait of an Old Woman" in Houston as its pendant; relates them stylistically to Rogier van der Weyden's portraits.

    Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: Catalogue. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 1994, p. 68.

    Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, pp. 69, 115, 146, 230–231, 360, 370, 390–391, no. 60, ill. (color), dates it about 1480–90, but elsewhere places it "no earlier than 1486"; hypothesizes that this portrait and Houston "Portrait of an Old Woman" might originally have formed a continuous double portrait, a pictorial type introduced by Memling in the Low Countries; comments on its "Eyckian pictorial quality" which he finds fundamentally different from the portraits that are certain to belong to Memling's early career; discusses the painting's condition.

    Mary Sprinson de Jesús in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 64, 66, 74, 141, 169, no. 29, ill. p. 168 (color), dates it 1480–90 and suggests that it formed a diptych rather than a continuous double portrait with its pendant in Houston; finds the portrait's exceptional realism and intimacy, as well as the compressed composition unusual in the context of Memling's oeuvre

    Hélène Verougstraete et al. Restaurateurs ou faussaires des primitifs flamands. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 2004, p. 125, ill. (color), reproduce a drawing by Van der Veken [presumably from the Archives van der Veken, a private archive in Antwerp] after the head in our portrait.

    Maryan W. Ainsworth in Memling's Portraits. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, pp. 94, 105, ill. pp. 106-7 (color and x-radiograph).

    Till-Holger Borchert. Memling's Portraits. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, p. 159.

    Lorne Campbell in Memling's Portraits. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, p. 54, 57.

    Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, p. 111 n. 10, pp. 296–97, no. 51a, fig. 239A.

    Alte Meister. Dorotheum, Vienna. June 16, 2011, p. 276, under no. 409, erroneously as by Jan van Eyck.

  • Notes

    Because the panel on which this portrait is painted has been trimmed and marouflaged it cannot be dated through dendrochronology. However, Peter Klein (see "Dendrochronological Analysis of Panels of Hans Memling." In "Hans Memling: Essays." Exh. cat. [Groeninge Museum, Bruges]. Ghent, 1994, p. 103) gives an estimated felling date for the "Old Woman" (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) of 1476. Adding to this a median storage time of ten years, the Houston panel would most likely have been produced about 1486. For this reason De Vos (see Ref. 1994a) dates the Houston picture and our "Portrait of a Man"—generally accepted as a pair—between about 1480–90.

  • See also