Old Woman in an Armchair

Attributed to Jacob Backer Dutch

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.

Not on view

Public Domain

Object Details

Artist: Attributed to Jacob Backer (Dutch, Harlingen 1608–1651 Amsterdam)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 50 3/8 x 39 1/8 in. (128 x 99.4 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913

Accession Number: 14.40.603

Like a good number of works formerly attributed to Rembrandt, this large canvas was included in catalogues of the artist's work through Bauch's corpus of 1966 and then rejected by Gerson (1968, 1969). In 1923, however, Van Dyke, no doubt responding to the frequent suggestion of Frans Hals's influence on the painting, assigned it to that master or to the "Hals School." Benesch, visiting The Met in 1940, was the first to propose an attribution to Jacob Backer. In 1984, De Bruyn Kops supported the Backer attribution, observing that the hands were characteristic (presumably recalling the hands in Backer's portrait of the eighty-year-old Johannes Uyttenbogaert, dated 1638, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). In 1988, Dutch portrait specialist Rudolf Ekkart concluded that the painting is either by Backer or after a lost portrait by him (verbal opinion recorded in departmental archives).

The brushwork in the face and hands is so fresh and purposeful that the notion of a copy may be dismissed. Nor is there any sign in the irregular contours of the costume, the nervous behavior of the hands, the subtle description of the cap and ruff, the luxurious fabrics, or any other passage to suggest that the painter was reproducing another picture. As for the attribution to Backer, it is supported mainly by comparisons with portraits of middle-aged or elderly women that are dated between 1636 and the early 1640s in Bauch's monograph (see Jakob Adriaensz Backer, ein Rembrandtschüler aus Friesland, Berlin, [1926]) and in Sumowski's survey of Backer's oeuvre (see Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, Landau, vol. 1, 1983). Unfortunately, the ideal comparison would be with the lost Portrait of an Old Woman, which happens to depict the same sitter as The Met's Portrait of an Old Woman (29.100.2) in the style of Jacob Backer. In good photographs, however, it appears that the brushwork in the face (with long strokes describing highlights on folds of skin), the drawing, and the use of shadows are quite comparable to the execution in The Met's painting. The costume and hands in the latter recall Backer's portrait of a younger woman (of about 1640?) in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. The handling in the so-called Portrait of an Elderly Woman in the Wallace Collection, London, is also reminiscent of The Met's canvas, although the picture of a distinctly younger woman (which Sumowski dates to about 1638) is more typical of Backer in its softer and smoother application of paint overall. The task of rendering dry and wrinkled skin in The Met's picture, its probably earlier date (of about 1634?), and perhaps the inspiration of Rembrandt's treatment of similar faces, like that in his Portrait of an Eighty-three-Year-Old Woman (Aechje Claesdr Pesser), dated 1634 (National Gallery, London), could account for the differences.

In sales of 1760, 1769, and 1782, this picture was paired with the Portrait of a Man formerly in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington. Schmidt-Degener (1914) and later writers have convincingly discounted their connection as pendants. It has been noted that the crossed rings on the woman's right index finger may indicate that she is a widow. In any case, the painting, in its design, and the figure, in pose and expression (alert, with a slight smile), convey an impression of self-sufficiency.

The inscription to the left gives the sitter's age as seventy and the date 24/3 (March 24), presumably the date of her birth. No trace of a year (other than that following the spurious Rembrandt signature) can now be found on the canvas.

[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
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.

Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 81.

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.

Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 321, ill., as Attributed to Jacob Adriaensz. Backer, Dutch, 1608–1651.

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.

Diana J. Kostyrko. The Journal of a Transatlantic Art Dealer: René Gimpel 1918–1939. London, 2017, p. 154.

Jacob Backer (4)