Compositions featuring young girls plucking birds, on the other hand, often contained sexual allusions to the Dutch verb vogelen (a slang word for copulating). For a discussion of the sexual symbolism of a young woman plucking a duck in a painting of ca. 1655–56 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Nicolaes Maes, see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Nicolaes Maes, Woman Plucking a Duck,” in The Public and Private in the Age of Vermeer (Exh. cat. Osaka, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art) (London, 2000), 132–35, no. 21. In this painting, objects such as a shotgun (presumably of the girl’s suitor) and a wine pitcher and glass in the next room enhance the sensual undertone of the girl’s act. In the present painting, however, there are no such objects pointing to male company. For another painting featuring an old woman plucking a duck, see Quentin Buvelot’s entry in the present catalogue on Frans van Mieris the Elder’s Elderly Couple in an Interior, ca. 1650–55 (FM-100), in which the old woman’s husband looks at the viewer as though to emphasize his wife’s domesticity.
The exotic bird of paradise, native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and accessible to the Dutch via the Dutch East India Company, had long captured the imagination of artists, as is signified by a drawing by Joris Hoefnagel as early as ca. 1580 (watercolor and gouache on parchment set in gold leaf, 143 x 184 mm, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., inv. no. 1922.214.171.124), as well as a study by Rembrandt of two birds of paradise (pen in brown on paper, ca. 1637, 181 x 154 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. 1195). See also Joachim Wolfgang von Moltke, Arent de Gelder, Dordrecht, 1645–1727 (Doornspijk, 1994), 185, no. R 68, where the present painting is erroneously identified as representing a taxidermist.
For the practice of hanging dead birds to allow the blood to flow out as a means to tenderize the meat, as depicted in Rembrandt’s Still Life with Dead Peacocks of ca. 1639 (fig. 4 below), see Ruud Priem, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Exh. cat. Dayton, Dayton Art Institute; Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum; Portland, Portland Art Museum) (Seattle, 2006), 37–38, no. 14.
For the symbolism of dead birds in combination with old age, see Dominique Surh’s entry in the present catalogue on Gerrit Dou’s Old Woman at a Niche by Candlelight, 1671 (GD-103), in which a dead chicken lies in close proximity to an old woman.
See Technical Summary. It is unclear when this signature was added. The number “816” next to this signature is presumably an old inventory number, but it is unknown to which collection it refers.
See Hans Fransen, Michaelis Collection: The Old Town House, Cape Town—Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings and Drawings (Zwolle, 1996), 132. The painting does not include the space above the woman’s head with the sconce, and has less space next to the woman’s hands on the left and the hanging birds on the right. The conservation history of this painting is unknown, and it is therefore not clear if the panel was cut. Bredius, in a letter to the keeper of the Michaelis Collection, dated 22 December 1937, mentioned a third version as well, though it is unknown where this version was at the time or is now. See also Joachim Wolfgang von Moltke, Arent de Gelder, Dordrecht, 1645–1727 (Doornspijk, 1994), 185, no. R 68, who believed that one of these works was a copy of the other, but could not conclude which was the original. Many thanks to Hayden Russell Proud, curator of the Michaelis Collection, for sending a photograph of the Cape Town version. According to Mr. Proud, the painting has developed matte areas and is scheduled to be examined by the paintings conservator (correspondence, April 2014, copy on file at the Leiden Collection).
For a discussion of the pentimenti, see the Technical Summary.
Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden, 6 vols. (Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94), 4:2964, no. 1984. Sumowski does not give any reasons for this observation.
For an overview of the early attribution history of the Cape Town painting, which includes oral or unpublished references to the Leiden Collection painting, see Hans Fransen, Michaelis Collection: The Old Town House, Cape Town—Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings and Drawings (Zwolle, 1996), 132.
See Hans Fransen, Michaelis Collection: The Old Town House, Cape Town—Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings and Drawings (Zwolle, 1996), 132. Although Bredius attributed the Cape Town painting to Rembrandt in a letter to the keeper of the Michaelis Collection in 1937, he did not include it in his 1942 The Paintings of Rembrandt (London, 1942).
For the attribution history to the School of Rembrandt, see Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden, 6 vols. (Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94), 4:2964, no. 1984; Hans Fransen, Michaelis Collection: The Old Town House, Cape Town—Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings and Drawings (Zwolle, 1996), 132. The Cape Town painting bore an attribution to Arent De Gelder in 1913. When the Leiden Collection painting was auctioned in 1972 and 1977 at Sotheby’s London (see Provenance), it was attributed to De Gelder as well. De Gelder, however, trained with Rembrandt in the early 1660s, later than when the paintings were presumably executed. Moreover, De Gelder adopted Rembrandt’s late, patchy painting style, which is not exemplified in these paintings. In 1994 J. W. von Moltke definitively rejected the attributions to De Gelder, see J. W. von Moltke, Arent de Gelder, Dordrecht, 1645–1727 (Doornspijk, 1994), 184–85, nos. R 67–68. The other three artists mentioned were all in Rembrandt’s workshop in the 1640s (Van der Pluym around 1645, Paudiss around 1642, and Van Dyck around 1650), which fits better with the dating of these paintings. Of these artists, Paudiss comes closest in terms of figure types (which was also noted by Sumowski), the delicate modeling, and the atmospheric lighting. See, for instance, his Still Life with Cow Heads, dated 1658, and his Old Man with Fur Hat, dated 1654, both reproduced in Christopher Paudiss, 1630–1666, ed. Sylvia Hahn et al. (Exh. cat. Freising, Diözesanmuseum) (Regensburg, 2007), nos. 7 and 12. A close comparison between these two paintings and the present work, however, shows that the handling of paint in the latter is overall smoother and the modeling less complex. The unpublished attribution to Van Dyck pertains only to the New York painting and was recorded in a note of ca. 2006 in The Leiden Collection curatorial files. In around 1660, Van Dyck painted Still Life with Hunting Gear and a Dead Bittern, oil on canvas, 121 x 104.8 cm, signed “Av Dÿck” (Rafael Valls Ltd., London, 2000–1), with a similar attention to details in the feathers as in the present painting. Van Dyck’s handling of paint, however, is rougher, with more impasto, making an attribution to him unlikely. The author would like to thank Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. for sharing his thoughts on these matters of attribution.
See Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden, 6 vols. (Landau and Pfalz, 1983–45), 4:2964, no. 1984. For a discussion of The Toilet of Bathsheba, see Walter Liedtke, “The Toilet of Bathsheba,” in Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2 vols. (New Haven and London, 2007), 2:613–23, no. 149. Liedtke points to the similarities between the servant holding Bathsheba’s foot in the 1643 painting and Rembrandt’s earlier painting of the same theme from ca. 1632, known only through copies. A copy of this early work is discussed in A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 2 (Dordrecht, Boston, and Lancaster, 1986), 591–94, no. C 45. The latter source also mentions the recurrence of the same model in Rembrandt’s 1654 Bathsheba, now at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Whereas it is true that the servant in the 1643 painting bears general similarities to the servants in the paintings of ca. 1632 and 1654, her lorgnette and her facial features, especially the pronounced chin, correspond most with the Leiden Collection painting. This supports a dating of the latter work to around the same time as the 1643 painting.
The painting was examined by Peter Klein at an unknown date, who concluded that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in 1628, and that the panel could plausibly have been ready for use from 1645 upwards, with a median of fifteen sapwood rings and two years for seasoning. The panel was also examined by Ian Tyers in November 2010, who concluded that the youngest heartwood ring in the central plank is a sapwood ring that can be dated to 1629. Tyers estimated a felling date between 1636 and 1652, based on the minimum and maximum number of sapwood rings. Considering that Tyers identified a sapwood ring, which was thus formed nearer the felling date than a regular-year ring, it is plausible that the felling date was nearer the minimum or median and not the maximum. It is reasonable to assume that with a median of fifteen sapwood rings and two years for seasoning, the panel, according to Tyers’s dating of the sapwood ring, could have been ready for use from 1646 onwards. There are copies of both dendrochronological reports in the curatorial files at The Leiden Collection.
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait with Dead Bittern, 1639, oil on panel, 89 x 121 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
The characterization of the wood is based on Ian Tyers’s 2010 dendrochronology report. The painting underwent previous dendrochronology by Peter Klein.
As viewed from the reverse.