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Portrait of a Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)
oil on canvas
77.5 x 64.8 cm
signed information

Signed and dated at center right: “Rembrandt f. 1660”

inventory number
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. “Portrait of a Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York. (accessed December 18, 2018).

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Rembrandt painted this powerfully expressive portrait of an elderly woman in 1660, at a time when he was exploring, as no artist had ever really done, the depth of the human soul. The woman’s rugged face, with its pronounced cheekbones, forceful chin, and generous nose, has great strength of character, but Rembrandt reveals the fullness of her inner life through her furrowed brow and deeply sunken eyes, which gaze fixedly into the distance. With bold brushwork Rembrandt suggests the aged character of her skin, not through definition of wrinkles but through the irregularities of its surface. Strokes of all types and colors—ochers, pinks, whites—merge, blend, and overlay in ways that defy description, as he often used a wet-into-wet painting technique. Seated alertly in an armchair in a darkened chamber with stark plaster walls, and with her hands in her lap, she is physically at rest but emotionally and spiritually engaged, alone with her thoughts.

During the last two decades of his life, Rembrandt turned increasingly to the half-length depiction of elderly figures. He portrayed these figures in moments of contemplation, as with Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped, sometimes reflecting inner anxieties, and sometimes a quiet spirituality. They often lack any narrative context or accompanying attribute, making it difficult to determine, as in the slightly earlier Old Woman in a Chair (), whether they are portraits or depictions of historical, biblical, or mythological figures. The aged men and women in these late paintings have the physical and emotional immediacy of figures painted from life, but they often occupy a realm between portraiture and character study. As one scholar has observed, with these works Rembrandt created a separate genre of painting.

The sitter portrayed in Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped has not been identified, and, indeed, the painting is undoubtedly more a character study than a formal portrait. Rembrandt captured her individuality in his depiction of her physical features—the slight cleft in her chin, small mouth, broad nose, and weathered hands. Her fur-trimmed jacket with its velvet sleeves and the black hood differ slightly from the clothing seen in Rembrandt’s other portrayals of elderly women in the late 1650s and early 1660s. In contrast to his vigorous modeling of the woman’s face and hands, he only summarily indicates her costume. Loosely applied brushstrokes evoke the softness of the brown fur, while, with the exception of a golden yellow highlight on the trim at her wrist, her sleeves and skirt are more suggested than defined.

Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped has a distinguished provenance that reaches back to the important English collector Sir Abraham Hume (1749–1838), and it was first catalogued as by Rembrandt in his collection in 1824. The attribution of the painting to Rembrandt was confirmed by the German art historian Wilhelm von Bode when he published this painting as being by the master in 1900, and all subsequent published opinions have fully supported this attribution. In recent decades, some scholars have privately expressed doubts about its attribution, suggesting that it was executed by one of Rembrandt’s pupils, but these reservations are unfounded.

Many stylistic and technical considerations with Rembrandt’s paintings from around 1660 support the attribution to the master. In The Apostle Simon from 1661 (), a work likely conceived as part of a series of apostles and evangelists that Rembrandt executed between 1657 and 1661, a muted, earth-toned palette and sweeping, loose brushwork convey a sober, moving image of this Christian martyr. Head turned and eyes downcast, one hand grasping the handle of a large saw and the other resting on his lap, Simon focuses his attention elsewhere. But as in Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped, Rembrandt was able to make the figure remarkably present in his physical and emotional state. Technical examination of the Leiden Collection work has shown that Rembrandt built up the structure of the old woman’s hands in a manner similar to that in The Apostle Simon, using horizontal, linear strokes of white paint, particularly in the fingers of the left hand.

The Portrait of Margaretha de Geer (), which was executed about the same time, evokes a familiar contrast of corporeal fragility with inner strength. Although Rembrandt approached this formally commissioned portrait in a more controlled fashion than he did Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped, he similarly applied grays, pinks, and yellows to animate the appearance of Margaretha’s aging skin. He likewise defined her eyebrows and forehead with a series of short, diagonal brushstrokes, and left the cool gray underlayer visible around the eyes to enhance the appearance of shadows. Rembrandt had already used this technique to create shadows around the eyes in his Self-Portrait of 1659 (Washington, National Gallery of Art), as well as in A Young Man Seated at a Table (Possibly Govaert Flinck) (Washington, National Gallery of Art, ca. 1660), though in a more restrained manner. This latter painting, significantly, depicts the same unusual stone window ledge visible behind the woman in the Leiden Collection painting.

Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped is the first work from Rembrandt’s late career to enter The Leiden Collection, and hence expands its ability to present the full scope of this extraordinary master’s career. In particular, this painting’s acquisition enables the collection to demonstrate how the depiction of aged sitters continued to captivate Rembrandt, from his early Leiden period in the late 1620s to the 1660s. This interest is seen, for example, in Study of a Woman in a White Cap (RR-101, ()) from about 1640, where Rembrandt has similarly captured the effects of age in his depiction of wrinkles, loose skin, and heavy contours beneath the eyes. As Joachim von Sandrart, Rembrandt’s contemporary in Amsterdam, later wrote in 1675, “in the depiction of old people, particularly their hair and skin, [Rembrandt] showed great diligence, patience and practice … he indeed excels, not only grandly rendering the simplicity of nature but using natural forces to color, heighten and embellish it, particularly in his half-length pictures of old heads.” In Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped, Rembrandt succeeded in capturing his sitter with an honest stillness and inner strength, where the unhesitating brushwork that defined his late career gave form to the effects of time’s passing.

- Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt
  • Sir Abraham Hume (1749–1838), London, by 1818; presumably by direct descent to his great- grandson, Adelbert Wellington Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow (1844-–1921), London, by 1899.
  • [Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, by 1900].
  • E.F. Milliken, New York (Sir Henry Bedingfield sale, Christie’s, London, 31 May 1902, no. 41 [for £5,775 to Donaldson]).
  • Sir George Donaldson (1845-1925), London [sold to F. Kleinberger, Paris, 11 June 1907].
  • [F. Kleinberger, Paris, 1907 (sold to Friedrich Ludwig von Gans, Frankfurt, 8 December 1907)].
  • Friedrich Ludwig von Gans (1833-1920), Frankfurt.
  • [Bachstitz Gallery, New York, probably acquired from the above, by 1921; (sold to Mrs. (Florence) Daniel Guggenheim and Daniel Guggenheim, 1930)].
  • Mrs. (Florence) Daniel Guggenheim (1863–1944), New York and Daniel Guggenheim (1856–1930), New York; by descent to their daughter, Gladys Eleanor Guggenheim Straus (1895–1980), wife of Roger W. Straus, New York.
  • Private Collection by 1977 [Agnew’s Gallery, London (Sotheby’s New York, 25 January 2017, no. 26, withdrawn)]; [Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 2017].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2017.
  • London, British Institution, 1818, no. 121 [lent by Sir Abraham Hume].
  • London, Royal Academy, “Winter Exhibition: Works by Rembrandt,” 1899, no. 78 [lent by Adelbert Wellington Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow].
  • Paris, Sedelmeyer Gallery, 1900, no. 29.
  • London, Royal Academy, “Old Masters, deceased masters of the British School, watercolours & chalk drawings,” 1907, no. 56 [lent by Sir George Donaldson].
  • Amsterdam, F. Muller & Co., 1907, no. 36.
  • New York, World’s Fair, “Masterpieces of Art,” 1939, no. 10.
  • Yokohama, Fukuoka and Kyoto, “Rembrandt and the Bible”, 1986-87, no. 10.
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • British Institution. Catalogue of Pictures of the Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and French Schools with which the Proprietors have Favored the British Institution for the Gratification of the Public, and for the Benefit of the Fine Arts in General. Exh. cat. London, British Institution. London, 1818, no. 121.
  • A descriptive catalogue of pictures belonging to Sir Abraham Hume. London, 1824, 36, no. 113, here and below as by Rembrandt.
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Rembrandt: beschreibendes Verzeichniss einer Gemälde mit den heliographischen Nachbildungen: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Kunst. 8 vols. Paris, 1897–1906, 4:564, no. 480.
  • Royal Academy of Arts. Winter Exhibition of Works by Rembrandt. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1899, no. 78.
  • Sedelmeyer, Charles. Catalogue of 100 Paintings. Paris, 1900, no. 29.
  • Herbert Slater, John. Art Sales of the Year 1902, being a record of the prices obtained at auction for pictures and prints sold from October, 1901, to the end of the season 1902. London, 1903, 354, no. 2800.
  • London, Royal Academy of Arts. Old Masters and Deceasted Masters of the British School including a Collection of Water Colours and Chalk Drawings. Exh. cat. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1907, no. 56.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and translated by Edward G. Hawke. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28. 6:    252, no. 498.
  • Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben. 3rd edition. Stuttgart and Berlin 1908, 496.
  • Graves, Algernon. A Century of Loan Exhibitions. London, 1914, 3: 1004, no. 121, 1015, no. 78, 1017, no. 56.
  • Gronau, Georg. The Bachstitz Gallery Collection. 3 vols. Berlin, 1921, 1: 32.
  • Balet, Leo. “Die Sammlung Bachstitz.” Der Cicerone 13 (May 1921): 332, as a portrait of a seated old woman by Rembrandt.
  • Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Paintings. New York, 1923, 201, no. 385.1.
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm. Bulletin of The Bachstitz Gallery. The Hague and New York, Jan. 1924
  • Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. London, 1936, no. 396.
  • World’s Fair. Illustrated catalogue of an exhibition held on the occasion of the New York World’s Fair, 1939. Exh. cat. New York, World’s Fair. New York, 1939, no. 10.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, no. 526.
  • Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968, 436, no. 388, 503, 518, 522.
  • Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Edited by Horst Gerson. London, 1969, no. 396, 308.
  • Lecaldano, Paolo. Rembrandt, L’opera completa. Milan, 1969, 121, no. 409.
  • Brown, Christopher, Josua Bruyn, et. al. Rembrandt and the Bible. Exh. cat. Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art Fukuoka, Fukuoka Art Museum; Kyoto, Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. Tokyo, 1986, 154, no. 10.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of a Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 168; 190, no. 74. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 182–83.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 17, 26, fig. 9; 29, 33. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina.  Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara “Portrait of a Seated Woman with Her Hands Clasped.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 182–83; 243–44, no. 58. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The original fabric support is a medium-weight, plain-weave canvas that has been lined onto a plain-weave canvas of slightly heavier weight. Along all four edges, traces of the original canvas extend approximately half an inch over the existing tacking margins. Examination of the X-radiograph reveals pronounced cusping patterns only along the proper right edge, suggesting that the proper left, top, and bottom edges may have been slightly cut down during a previous restoration campaign.

Scientific analysis of paint cross-sections revealed that the ground consists primarily of chalk; at least fourteen works associated with Rembrandt dating to the 1650s and 1660s possess grounds containing chalk. There is a cool gray-colored underlayer visible in sections of the flesh; however, based on the samples that were collected from the painting, it is difficult to confirm whether this layer is in fact a second ground layer. No underdrawing can be detected, although a dark brown underpainting can be seen in some areas of the picture, most noticeably along the proper left edge in the background, along the contours of the hands, and around the periphery of the face.

The oil paint has been applied using both wet-into-wet techniques (as can be seen in the flesh tones) and wet-over-dry methods in larger sections of the composition (such as in the background). The highlights in the clothing, flesh tones, and fur lining of the costume are more thickly painted; opaque, broad brushstrokes are visible in these sections and are often associated with subtle impasto. Thinner applications were used to build up the darker sections of the sitter’s clothing as well as the background. The paint stratigraphy in the section containing the signature is not straightforward; thin remnants of a gray-brown paint layer can be seen extending over and/or alongside sections of the signature.

The painting is covered by a number of coats of slightly discolored varnish, which are uneven in sheen/gloss.

Overall the support, ground, and paint layers are stable and in good condition. There is scattered retouching throughout and a pronounced craquelure pattern appears throughout the entire picture, particularly in darker passages and in the woman’s sleeve.

  1. After Rembrandt, Portrait of an Old Woman, oil on grey cardboard, Claude E. De Coen Collection, Saint Cezaire sur Saigne, France [identified by Mr. Coen as a study for the portrait in The Leiden Collection, dimensions not given].
  2. After Rembrandt, Portrait, 19th century, oil on canvas, 47 x 40 cm (previously sold at Henry’s Auktionhaus AG for 200 Euro at Henry’s Auktionshaus, Mutterstadt, 27 August, 2017).
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