Exhibitions/ Art Object

Old Woman in an Armchair

Attributed to Jacob Backer (Dutch, Harlingen 1608–1651 Amsterdam)
Oil on canvas
50 3/8 x 39 1/8 in. (128 x 99.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
This portrait is probably the companion piece to the Portrait of a Man in an Arm Chair, formerly in the Corcoran Gallery, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. It has been attributed to Jacob Backer, who worked in Rembrandt’s studio in Amsterdam from 1632-34 and clearly was influenced by his master’s work at that time.
Inscription: Inscribed and dated: (upper right) Rembrandt f. / 1635; (upper left) ÆT·SVE·70 / 24: / [3?]
J. A. Tourton or M. ten Hove (until 1760; posthumous sale, Amsterdam, April 8ff., 1760, no. 2, for fl. 585 with pendant to Yver); sale, Cok, Amsterdam, May 8, 1769, no. 66, for fl. 650 with pendant to Fouquet; Pierre Fouquet, Amsterdam (from 1769); ?Sainte-Foix (his/her anonymous sale, Le Brun, Paris, April 22ff., 1782, no. 3, with pendant, for 2,399.19 livres to Donjeux); ?Donjeux (from 1782); Mme Hoofman, Haarlem (in 1836); Charles-Auguste-Louis-Joseph de Morny, duc de Morny, Paris (by 1863–d. 1865; inv., 1865, no. 71; his estate sale, Palais de la Présidence du Corps Législatif, Paris, May 31, 1865, no. 69, for Fr 4,900); baron Achille Seillière, Paris (in 1867); private collection (until 1888; sale, Christie's, London, July 14 and 16, 1888, no. 167, as property of a gentleman, for £1,155 to Lesser); [L. Lesser, London, 1888–89]; Arthur Sanderson, Edinburgh (by 1897–until about 1906); [Duveen, London, until 1906; sold for $124,185 to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (1906–d. 1913)
Amsterdam. Stedelijk Museum. "Rembrandt Schilderijen," September 8–October 31, 1898, no. 35 (lent by Arthur Sanderson, Edinburgh).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 10, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 24.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.

John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 7, London, 1836, p. 177, no. 554, attributes it to Rembrandt; as in the collection of Mejufvrouwe Hoffman [sic], Haarlem.

Léon Lagrange. "La galerie de M. le duc de Morny." Gazette des beaux-arts 14 (April 1863), p. 292, calls it a magnificent portrait by Rembrandt, and suggests that the sitter might be the artist's mother.

Inventaire après décès du duc de Morny. March 21, 1865, no. 551 [Etude de Mes. Asso, Bertin, Boudry, Paris; Getty no. F-13], values it at 6,000 francs.

W. Bürger [Théophile Thoré] in Paris guide, par les principaux écrivains et artistes de la France. Vol. 1, La science—L'art. Paris, 1867, p. 542, lists it in the collection of baron Seillière.

Eugène Dutuit. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885, p. 20.

Alfred von Wurzbach. Rembrandt-galerie. Stuttgart, 1886, text vol., no. 468.

Cosmo Monkhouse. "A Northern Home." Art Journal (1897), pp. 271–72, ill., as in the collection of Arthur Sanderson; finds that although it is said to be a portrait of the artist's mother, the sitter does not in fact resemble her.

C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. De Rembrandt Tentoonstelling te Amsterdam. Amsterdam, [1898], unpaginated, no. 6 [text section] and no. 35, pl. 6.

Malcolm Bell. Rembrandt van Rijn and His Work. London, 1899, p. 141.

Wilhelm Bode assisted by C. Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. Vol. 3, Paris, 1899, pp. 35–36, 192, 194, no. 224, pl. 224, calls it the pendant to a portrait of an old man in an armchair in Lord Ashburton's collection (now Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington).

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1904, ill. p. 87.

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906, p. 397, ill. p. 145.

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Ed. W. R. Valentiner. 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1909, p. 555, ill. p. 209.

A[braham]. Bredius. "Did Rembrandt Paint the Portrait of Elizabeth Bas?" Burlington Magazine 20 (March 1912), pp. 339–41, pls. IID, IVH (details).

Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. New York, 1914, pp. 10–11, no. 5, ill. opp. p. 10.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "The Rembrandts of the Altman Collection: I." Art in America 2 (August 1914), pp. 352, 355, fig. 3, sees a similarity to the work of Frans Hals.

F. Schmidt-Degener. "Portraits peints par Rembrandt, II: Mennonites." Art Flamand & Hollandais 21 (January 1914), pp. 1–2, sees the influence of Hals; rejects the Corcoran portrait as the pendant.

"The Altman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum, New York." Art and Progress 6 (January 1915), ill. p. 83.

C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 6, London, 1916, pp. 347, 398, no. 868, calls it the pendant to the Corcoran portrait; provides provenance information.

François Monod. "La Galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (November 1923), p. 302.

John C. van Dyke. Rembrandt and His School. New York, 1923, p. 167, pl. XLII-164, attributes it to Frans Hals in the text, but labels it "Hals School" in the caption.

D. S. Meldrum. Rembrandt's Paintings. London, 1923, pp. 85, 140, 190, pl. CXI, calls the sitter probably a Mennonite, because of her old-fashioned dress.

Alan Burroughs. "Rembrandts in the Metropolitan Museum." The Arts 4 (November 1923), p. 272, questions the attribution to Rembrandt, stating that the picture "might easily be Rembrandt's own work; but its hard, uncompromising surface defies one's feeling and leaves no illusion of insight".

Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1928, pp. 74–75, no. 38, ill. opp. p. 74.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931, unpaginated, no. 54, pl. 54, attributes it to Rembrandt, and sees the influence of Frans Hals.

Alan Burroughs. "A Rembrandtesque Portrait by Govaert Flinck." Creative Art 10, no. 5 (May 1932), pp. 385, 390–91, fig. 3, 6 (overall and x-ray detail), attributes it to Rembrandt.

A[braham]. Bredius. Rembrandt Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, pp. 9, 15, no. 348, pl. 348, calls it possibly the pendant to the Corcoran picture.

George Isarlov. "Rembrandt et son entourage." La renaissance 19 (1936), p. 16.

Alan Burroughs. Art Criticism from a Laboratory. Boston, 1938, pp. 160–61.

Josephine L. Allen. "The Museum's Rembrandts." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (November 1945), p. 73.

Kurt Bauch. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, pp. 20, 25, pl. 491, as possibly the pendant to the Corcoran picture.

Horst Gerson. Rembrandt Paintings. Ed. Gary Schwartz. Amsterdam, 1968, p. 495, no. 185, ill. p. 297, rejects the attribution to Rembrandt, calling the picture "from the Amsterdam circle of the master".

Paolo Lecaldano in L'opera pittorica completa di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969, p. 104, no. 171, ill.

Horst Gerson, ed. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. By A[braham]. Bredius. 3rd ed. London, 1969, pp. 565, 577, no. 348, ill. p. 273.

Francis Haskell. "The Benjamin Altman Bequest." Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970), fig. 10 (Altman gallery installation).

I[sabella]. H[enriette]. v[an]. E[eghen]. "Willem Jansz van der Pluym en Rembrandt." Amstelodamum 64 (January/February 1977), p. 11, suggests that the Corcoran and MMA portraits could depict Jan Willemsz van der Pluym, a wealthy Leiden plumber, and his wife Jaapgen Carels; notes that Marten ten Hove, in whose sale of 1760 the two works were included, was the great-great-grandson of the couple.

J[osua]. Bruyn et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 3, 1635–1642. The Hague, 1989, pp. 35, 630, 679, 699–704, no. C112, ill. (overall, details, x-ray detail), tentatively attribute it to an assistant in Rembrandt's studio, possibly the same individual who painted the portrait of Antonie Coopal (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, fig. 37 (Altman gallery installation).

Julia Lloyd Williams. Dutch Art and Scotland: A Reflection of Taste. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland. [Edinburgh], 1992, p. 176, as in the collection of Arthur Sanderson until about 1906.

Walter Liedtke in Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, "Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives."New York, [1995], pp. 96–98, no. 24, ill. (color), tentatively attributes it to Backer and dates it 1634.

Hubert von Sonnenburg. Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, "Paintings: Problems and Issues."New York, 1995, pp. 43, 112, 114, figs. 38 and 147 (color details), 39 and 148 (x-radiograph details), and 149, rejects the attribution to Backer, finding that the brushwork bears no resemblance to Backer's; calls it Style of Rembrandt.

Bernhard Schnackenburg in The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt. Exh. cat., Staatliche Museen Kassel. Wolfratshausen, Germany, 2001, pp. 117, 121 n. 127, mentions it as by an anonymous member of Rembrandt's studio; dates it 1635.

Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, pp. 280, 476.

Esmée Quodbach. "'Rembrandt's "Gilder" is here': How America Got its First Rembrandt and France Lost Many of its Old Masters." Simiolus 31, no. 1/2 (2004), p. 94 n. 13, pp. 95, 97–98 n. 42, tentatively identifies it with a picture recorded by Bode in "Studien zur Geschichte der Holländischen Malerei," Braunschweig, 1883, p. 617, as in the collection of the Herzogs von Sagan in Berlin, mistakenly attributed to Bartolomeus van der Helst.

Catherine B. Scallen. Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship. Amsterdam, 2004, p. 375 n. 49.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 31–32, 35, fig. 31 (Altman gallery photograph).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 4–10, no. 1, colorpl. 1, tentatively dates it about 1634; states that "the brushwork in the face and hands is so fresh and purposeful that the notion of a copy may be dismissed".

Walter Liedtke. "Rembrandt Revelations at the Metropolitan Museum." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, Beiheft: Wissenschaft auf der Suche 51 (2009), p. 43 n. 1.

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