Abraham Dismissing Hagar and Ishmael

Nicolaes Maes (Dutch, Dordrecht 1634–1693 Amsterdam)
Oil on canvas
34 1/2 x 27 1/2 in. (87.6 x 69.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Edward Brayton, 1971
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 637
This painting is the earliest known dated work by Maes, who was Rembrandt's pupil between about 1650 and 1652. The composition was inspired by the master's etching of 1637, which Maes surpassed at least in the expressions of Abraham's concubine, Hagar, and the couple's son, Ishmael. The dog is a tender and, in this scene, ironic reminder of fidelity.
The date inscribed on this canvas, 1653, is the earliest known in Maes's oeuvre, and marks a moment when he was just beginning to work independently after studying with Rembrandt for two or three years. The work could have been painted in Amsterdam or in the artist's native Dordrecht. In conception, the picture depends upon examples by Rembrandt, while the manner of execution is similar to that of other Rembrandt pupils of the late 1640s and early 1650s, such as Willem Drost.

The subject, from Genesis 21:14, occurs frequently in Dutch art, especially in Rembrandt's circle. Abraham, founder of the Hebrew nation, and his wife, Sarah, lived in the land of Canaan, having returned there from Egypt. Abraham was ninety-nine, and Sarah ninety years old. They were childless except for Ishmael, a son whom, at Sarah's suggestion, Abraham had by her Egyptian maid, Hagar. The Lord appeared to Abraham, declaring that he would be the father of many nations, and that Sarah would give birth to a son, Isaac. Abraham doubted this extraordinary news, and made an appeal on behalf of Ishmael, who was then only thirteen. God responded, promising to make Ishmael fruitful. After Isaac was weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking, much as Hagar, when she first conceived, had looked down upon Sarah (Genesis 16:4). Sarah then demanded that Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael from their house. Abraham grieved at the prospect of losing Ishamel, but God told him him to accede to Sarah's wishes, saying that Ishmael too would found a nation. The next morning, Abraham turned Hagar and Ishmael out of his house, giving them bread and water. They departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba, where God protected them.

Maes made a preparatory drawing for this picture (Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) that recalls Rembrandt's etching of 1637 (The Met, 1983.1140.1) in its upright composition and diagonal view of the doorway and steps, in aspects of Abraham's pose, and in the placement of Ishmael if not Hagar. Maes evidently followed Rembrandt in showing Ishmael's head turned from the back, but then made a revision, turning the boy's head to reveal his sad expression and perhaps imply a parting glance at the dog. There is general agreement that Maes himself modified the figure of Ishmael, as opposed to Rembrandt's suggesting an alternative to his nineteen-year-old pupil. In any event, Maes has in terms of expression achieved something more affecting and profound than Rembrandt did in his etching. Here, Maes shifts the emphasis to Hagar, a figure of great dignity and humility.

With the exception of one reproduction published in Hamann 1936, the painting was completely unknown to scholars until it was given to The Met in 1971. The donor was a direct descendant of the man who brought the picture to America in about 1811.

[2013; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower center, on step): NMAES. [first four letters in ligature] 1653
sale, Braam, Dordrecht, December 3, 1810, no. 54, as "De wegzending van Hagar," by Maes, hoog 35, breed 26 duim; John Hare Powel, Philadelphia (bought in Europe in 1810–11, until 1855; given to his son); his son, John Hare Powel Jr., Philadelphia (from 1855); his son, Pemberton Hare Powel; his daughter, Annie Hare Powel (Mrs. Edward) Brayton, Fall River, Mass. (until 1971)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions, 1965–1975," December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976, unnumbered cat.

Milwaukee Art Center. "The Bible through Dutch Eyes: From Genesis through the Apocrypha," April 9–May 23, 1976, no. 8.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 10, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 52.

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.

Richard Hamann. "Hagars Abschied bei Rembrandt und im Rembrandt-Kreise." Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 8–9 (1936), pp. 536–38, fig. 93, as in a private collection, New York; discusses it in the context of related works, including Maes's preparatory drawing in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, and a second painting of the subject by him in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin (destroyed in World War II).

Werner Sumowski. "Nachträge zum Rembrandtjahr 1956." Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 7, no. 2 (1957/58), p. 237, lists versions of this subject by Maes in Berlin and New York.

John Walsh Jr. "The Earliest Dated Painting by Nicolaes Maes." Metropolitan Museum Journal 6 (1972), pp. 105–14, figs. 1, 2, 7, 8 (overall and details).

John Walsh Jr. "New Dutch Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 99 (May 1974), pp. 348–49 n. 20, colorpl. VI.

Anthony M. Clark in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 90, ill.

B[enedict]. N[icolson]. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 539, fig. 103.

Alfred Bader. The Bible through Dutch Eyes: From Genesis through the Apocrypha. Exh. cat., Milwaukee Art Center. Milwaukee, 1976, pp. 26–27, no. 8, ill. (color).

Jan Kelch in Catalogue of Paintings: 13th–18th Century. 2nd, rev. ed. Berlin-Dahlem, 1978, p. 249 [German ed., 1975, p. 246].

Otto Naumann. Frans van Mieris (1635–1681) the Elder. Doornspijk, 1981, vol. 1, p. 51 n. 12.

Werner Sumowski. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. Vol. 3, B. Keil–J. Ovens. Landau/Pfalz, 1983–[94?], pp. 1951–52, 2006–7, 2011, no. 1315, ill. p. 2041 (color), states that the woman who modelled for Hagar is also seen in Maes' "Woman with Three Children" (no. 1329; private collection).

Reflets du siècle d'or: tableaux hollandais du dix-septième siècle. Exh. cat., Institut Néerlandais. Paris, 1983, p. 79, under no. 47.

Werner Sumowski. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. Vol. 6, Landau/Pfalz, 1983–[94?], p. 3627, no. 1315.

Peter C. Sutton in Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1984, p. LII.

Bob Haak. The Golden Age: Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. New York, 1984, p. 420, fig. 917.

Werner Sumowski. Drawings of the Rembrandt School. Vol. 8, New York, 1984, p. 3964, under no. 1764, p. 4164, under no. 1860x, suggests that a drawing in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, of about 1653 might be alternate idea for this painting.

David McTavish. Pictures from the Age of Rembrandt: Selections from the Personal Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Alfred Bader. Exh. cat., Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Kingston, Canada, 1984, p. 48, under no. 21.

William Robinson. "'The Sacrifice of Isaac': An Unpublished Painting by Nicolaes Maes." Burlington Magazine 126 (September 1984), pp. 540, 544, fig. 7, notes that the cloth from which Ishmael's robe is made appears in several other paintings by Maes.

Eva Ornstein-Van Slooten. Bij Rembrandt in de Leer/Rembrandt as Teacher. Exh. cat., Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Amsterdam, 1984, p. 87, under no. 71, p. 88, under no. 72.

Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 183.

J[osua]. Bruyn. "Review of Sumowski 1983–94 [vol. 3]." Oud Holland 102, no. 4 (1988), p. 328.

Jeroen Giltaij. The Drawings by Rembrandt and His School in the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 1988, p. 220, fig. a, under no. 111.

Neil MacLaren revised and expanded by Christopher Brown in The Dutch School, 1600–1900. 2nd ed. London, 1991, vol. 1, pp. 242–43, 245 n. 13, under no. 757.

John Ingamells. The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures. Vol. 4, Dutch and Flemish. London, 1992, p. 189.

Paul Huys Janssen in The Hoogsteder Exhibition of Rembrandt's Academy. Exh. cat., Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder. The Hague, 1992, pp. 236, 239 n. 2, fig. 30a, under no. 30.

Alan Chong and Marjorie E. Wieseman. "De figuurschilderkunst in Dordrecht." De Zichtbaere Werelt: Schilderkunst uit de Gouden Eeuw in Hollands oudste Stad. Exh. cat., Dordrechts Museum. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1992, p. 25, fig. 23.

Marjorie E. Wieseman in De Zichtbaere Werelt: Schilderkunst uit de Gouden Eeuw in Hollands oudste Stad. Exh. cat., Dordrechts Museum. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1992, p. 228, under no. 57, p. 232, under no. 58.

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. 6, 19, 30, 146, 149–50, no. 52, ill.

Seymour Slive. Dutch Painting 1600–1800. New Haven, 1995, p. 113.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. Washington, 1995, p. 163 n. 11.

William W. Robinson in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 20, New York, 1996, p. 78, calls it "one of the most poignant renderings of a theme that was especially popular among Rembrandt's students".

Michiel C. Plomp. The Dutch Drawings in the Teyler Museum. Vol. 2, Artists Born Between 1575 and 1630. Haarlem, 1997, p. 233, under no. 250, relates a sketch in the Teyler Museum to this painting.

León Krempel. Studien zu den datierten Gemälden des Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693). Petersberg, Germany, 2000, pp. 23, 28, 30, 33, 42, 45–46, 61, 110, 115 n. 14, p. 117 n. 27, p. 123 nn. 13–14, p. 125 n. 54, 278–79, no. A2, fig. 1, pl. I.

Christine Petra Sellin. "Seventeenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings of the Biblical Hagar and Ishmael: Painterly Conceptions of Familial Life and Community in a Developing Nation." History in Dutch Studies. Lanham, Md., 2003, p. 201, fig. 4.

Hannah Heilmann in Rembrandt? The Master and His Workshop. Exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst. [Copenhagen], 2006, p. 326.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 58, fig. 66 (color).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. xi, 430–36, 442, no. 108, colorpl. 108; vol. 2, pp. 740, 744.

Walter Liedtke. Vermeer: The Complete Paintings. Antwerp, 2008, p. 60.

Master Paintings: Evening Sale. Sotheby's, New York. February 1, 2018, p. 48, under no. 13.