Sheet with five studies of women's heads; including two of an old woman (Aeltje) wearing spectacles at the end of her nose Pen and brown ink, touched with brown wash Verso: Slight sketch of head in profile and a fragment of drapery Charcoal and brown wash


© The Trustees of the British Museum

  • VersoVerso

Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1895,0915.1202

Bibliographic reference
Hind 1915-31 1
Sumowski 1979 continuing 1781
JCR 734
Royalton-Kisch 2010 Maes.6

Dutch Roy XVIIc

Back to search results

Back to catalogue

Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Attributed to Nicolaes Maes (biographical details | all objects)
1653 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

Five studies of women's heads; including two of an old woman (Aeltje) wearing spectacles at the end of her nose. c.1653

Pen and brown ink with greyish-brown wash; framing-lines in pen and brown ink.

Verso: part of the profile of a woman in black chalk and a fragmentary study of drapery in brown wash.

No watermark.

Inscription Content: Inscribed recto, in pen and brown ink: ‘det ies meu aeltien / de goede vrou min moeders a [cut; last letter uncertain]’; and lower left: ‘det ies me [me crossed out] / meu ael / ten’; Verso: in graphite, top centre: ‘734’; lower right: ‘5/1’.

Height: 161 millimetres
Width: 93 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 24/25mm apart)

Trimmed (as shown by the inscription as well as details of the drawing, on verso as well as the recto).

Curator's comments
The inscriptions suggest that Aeltje was an old and favourite servant of the artist's mother (see Hind).

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, attributed to Nicolaes Maes, cat. no.6:
The drawing depicts two and possibly three sitters: the old woman referred to as 'Aeltien' or 'Aelten' in adjacent inscriptions, and in the upper inscription as the 'the good servant of my mother's….'; a younger servant woman seen in two sketches below, who may be - but probably is not - the same woman as the one depicted on the right, whose cap is different.
Attempts have been made to identify the figure of Aeltien among the models appearing in paintings by Maes, but the similarities are not wholly persuasive. The type, expression and action of Maes' figures, however, are close, and he often represented women concentrating on household chores and other domestic activities.
The traditional attribution has come under fire several times, beginning in the late nineteenth century. Maes' other individual studies from life, often executed in chalk rather than ink, offer insufficient support to confirm it. Yet there are similarities with Maes' approach to form as well as his subject-matter. For example, the short, neat, but wiry strokes of parallel hatching, which are often clustered in small groups of a few lines each and facetted in different directions in a somewhat geometric way (as in the heads on the right and in the lower left hand corner) are frequently encountered in Maes' work, as is the re-emphasis of pen outlines with broader strokes or with the tip of the brush (as in the shoulders of the central figure and that on the right). The style of drawing in the head in the lower right corner may be compared with the head of 'Isaac' in the drawing of him in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Sumowski 1765b). An early work, it is a study for a painting of the mid-1650s, and the present drawing might be earlier still, and could possibly represent figures from the Maes family household around the time of the artist's return to Dordrecht from Amsterdam in around 1653.[1] The deliberate, exercise-book handwriting might also suggest an early date. For these reasons, the old attribution is here retained, albeit with reservations.[2]

[1] See Robinson, 1984, who dated the painting to around 1655-58, and Sumowski, 'Gemälde', III, 1983 (but mentioning Robinson, 1984), no.1316, repr., who dates it shortly after a painting dated 1653.
[2] As an alternative, Maes' fellow Dordrecht townsman, Samuel van Hoogstraten, might be invoked, although the composition of the drawing, with its focus on individual heads, differs from almost everything in the latter's surviving oeuvre. There are some stylistic analogies with some of his his drawings but they are not sufficiently persuasive (for example, with the 'Youth with a Hat in the Dutch Door of a House', now in Berlin, inv.11974, Sumowski 1261x, which exhibits some similar shading).

LITERATURE (as Maes unless stated otherwise):
Robinson, 1869/76, no.719/734 (sitter is Maes' mother); London, 1915, pp.89-90, no.1, repr. pl.LVIII (compares sitter to paintings of 'Old Woman Spinning' and 'Old Woman saying Grace' in Amsterdam, inv.nos. C176, and C535, Sumowski 'Gemälde', 1341 and 1367, and drawings in Amsterdam, inv.A495, Sumowski 1808x, Berlin, inv.2611, Sumowski 1821x, and Vienna , inv.1757, Sumowski 1806x); Hofstede de Groot, 1915[II], p.62 (corrects reading of inscription in London, 1915; believes the drawing depicts a 'mother of note' ['achtenswaardige moei']); Bredius, 1923-4, p.207 (with transcription of inscription; drawing shows Maes' aunt); Valentiner, 1924, p.46, repr. p.32, fig.36; Van Dyke, 1927, p.112 (attribution uncertain); Cambridge, Mass., 1940, I, p.270, under no.213 (represents a servant of Maes' mother); Amsterdam, 1942, p.95, under no.3; Slive, 1965, I, under no.92; Sumowski, 1979 etc., VIII, 1984, no.1781; Robinson, 1996 diss., p.98, n.7 (not Maes).

spectacles (all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Col John Wingfield Malcolm (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection John Malcolm of Poltalloch (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Gérard Leembruggen (1866, No 385) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Gérard Leembruggen Jz.; his sale, Amsterdam, Roos, Engelberts, Lamma and Roos, 5 March, 1866, lot 385 (bt for Malcolm, who paid £6-4-0);* John Malcolm of Poltalloch; purchased with his collection, 1895. * According to annotated copy of Robinson, 1876, in the British Museum.

Exhibition History
London, 1895, no.393a (attribution to Maes uncertain, but resembles Amsterdam painting, 'The Spinner');
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle (not in catalogue, as Maes).

Noticed a mistake? Have some extra information about this object? Please contact us

To bookmark this page select "Bookmark this page" or "Add to favourites" from the web browser menu.