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Portrait of a young fair-skinned woman seated facing right in three quarter view.

We see most of the woman’s right side of her neck and pensive face as her gaze is slightly downward, with parted lips. She wears a dress with puffy sleeves at the shoulders and scoop neck in seventeenth century Dutch style. Her hair is wrapped in loose fabric, she has thin eyebrows. Her right arm rests in her lap, the left arm is not visible, details fall off at the bottom. She’s drawn in realistic detail, white highlights and shadows give depth to the drawing. The background is undescribed on antique paper.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Cornelis Bega, Dutch (Haarlem, Netherlands 1631/32 - 1664 Haarlem, Netherlands)
A Seated Woman
Work Type
c. 1661-1664
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Black and white chalk on antique laid blue paper discolored to greenish brown, mounted on antique laid paper
21 x 13.9 cm (8 1/4 x 5 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • watermark: foolscap with five pointed collar - see VSC image in media
  • collector's mark: recto, lower left, brown ink: W.A.D. [surmounted by a crown and encircled] (Lugt 2602d, mark of Vladimir Argoutinsky-Dolgoroukoff)
  • inscription: verso of mount, upper left, graphite: Cornelis Bega / Haarlem / 1620-1664
  • inscription: verso of mount, upper left, graphite: ex Wertheimer
  • inscription: verso of mount, upper center, graphite: Cornlis[sic] Bega
  • collector's mark: verso of mount, lower left, blue ink: M G A [in monogram] [Lugt 3306, mark of The Maida and George Abrams Collection]


Recorded Ownership History
Prince Vladimir Argoutinsky-Dolgoroukoff, Paris (Lugt 2602d), sold; through his sale [Sotheby's, London, July 4, 1923, lot 54] to Tancred Borenius, London (d. 1948). [Possibly Dr. Anne Wertheimer, Paris]. Private Collection, Switzerland, sold; to [Claude Kuhn, Basel], sold; to [Thomas Le Claire, Hamburg] sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1987 (Lugt 3306); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2019

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

This drawing of a seated woman with a fur-trimmed jacket belongs to a group of single female figure studies by Cornelis Bega.1 Best known for his genre paintings in the vein of his probable master, Adriaen van Ostade (1999.123.10 and 2009.206), Bega also deserves acclaim for his participation within a larger milieu of Haarlem artists who were active during the middle of the seventeenth century and interested in figural drawing. Those contemporary with Bega included Gerrit Berckheyde (2009.207), Leendert van der Cooghen (1951.3), Cornelis Visscher, Salomon and Jan de Braij, and Dirck Helmbreeker. Bega, Berckheyde, and Van der Cooghen, among others, appear to have shared models, sometimes during the same drawing session.2 Their drawings may be recognized by their meticulous use of contour and hatching to delineate the human form.

Bega’s inheritance, via his mother, of Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem’s estate included paintings, prints, and all of that artist’s red chalk drawings, mostly figural and anatomical.3 Although no cohesive body of figure studies survives from the socalled Haarlem Academy of Hendrick Goltzius, Karel van Mander, and Cornelisz. van Haarlem—formed during the last years of the sixteenth century to draw naer het leven (from life)—we may infer that Bega took an interest in his grandfather’s figural drawings and working methods. Further influence may have come from any number of his artistic family members, including his father, Pieter Jansz. Bagijn, a gold- and silversmith, in addition to his presumed apprenticeship under Haarlem’s reigning practitioner of lowlife genre, Adriaen van Ostade. Bega also joined Vincent Laurensz. van der Vinne (1628/29–1702) for a trip to Germany and Switzerland in 1653 (accompanied for part of the journey by Guillam Dubois and Dirck Helmbreeker), returning over a year before joining Haarlem’s Guild of Saint Luke, the painters’ guild, on September 1, 1654. According to Arnold Houbraken, Bega’s short life ended in 1664 after he contracted the plague.4

Among Bega’s female figure studies, our sheet belongs to a subgroup of over a dozen in black and white chalk on colored paper.5 Mary Ann Scott dates this Study of a Woman, like the majority of these drawings, to circa 1661–64, Bega’s final years. Typical of this group, the black and white chalk is applied here in a spontaneous and gestural manner well suited to capturing the shimmering effects of light on flesh and costume. The lightly drawn ancillary figure at the upper right shows the same model in profile, but without facial features. A similar approach is seen in a Seated Woman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where two renditions of the same figure, one more detailed than the other, appear on a single sheet,6 suggesting that Bega sometimes used these drawings to test more than one pose without committing to a thorough drapery study in each figure. The same model and costume appear in several other drawings by Bega: a Seated Woman Facing Left and a Sleeping Woman, also in black and white chalk on blue paper, and a Seated Woman in red chalk on off-white paper.7 In the last, the model appears meticulously drawn both in full length and in a smaller head study at the upper left.

Although Scott believed there to be no indisputable cases where Bega transferred a drawn female figure directly to a painting, Baukje Coenen has discovered multiple instances where he did so, transforming our understanding of these sheets from purely academic exercise to a more nuanced range of functions, including painting preparation. The costume and general pose seen here appear in several paintings of procuresses or mothers by Bega or members of his circle. The costume elements and pose most closely resemble the female figure in Peasant Family: a seated mother wearing a fur-trimmed jacket, linen bodice, and headdress, who cradles her infant in her arms while a man raising a glass looks on (Fig. 1).8


1 Mary Ann Scott counted thirty-seven in her 1984 dissertation, Cornelis Bega as Painter and Draughtsman, (University of Maryland, College Park, MD, cats. D1–D37), and Baukje Coenen added one more in the monographic exhibition of 2012, Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten (Peter Van den Brink, Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann, et al. Aachen, Germany: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum; Berlin: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, cat. 30). See also a standing woman in black and white chalk on blue paper, 300 × 165 mm, sold at Christie’s, Paris, 16 December 2005, lot 200, and authenticated by Peter Schatborn.

2 Peter Schatborn, Dutch Figure Drawings from the Seventeenth Century (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet; Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1981), pp. 99–112; Coenen in Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten, p. 41.

3 Scott, p. 6; Pieter Biesboer et al., Painting in Haarlem 1500–1850: The Collection of the Frans Hals Museum (Ghent, 2006), pp. 100–101.

4 Pieter Biesboer in Van den Brink et al., pp. 25–29, gives the most recent and thorough biography.

5 Scott, cats. D1, D4, D5, D8, D9, D10, D18, D23, D24, D32, D33, and D36; and see in idem., Coenen and Schatborn in note 1.

6 Woman Holding a Jug and a Study of Her Head Seen from the Left, black and white chalk on blue paper, 173 × 129 mm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1975.131.138 (Scott, cat. D32; Van den Brink et al., repr. fig. cat. 63a, p. 227).

7 Cornelis Bega, Seated Woman Facing Left, black and white chalk on blue paper, 255 × 173 mm, Collection of Wayne and Linnea Franits, Syracuse, New York (not in Scott, Van den Brink et al., cat. 30); Cornelis Bega, Sleeping Woman Holding Papers, black chalk on blue paper, 318 × 226 mm, Rennes, Musée de Rennes, 794.1.2565 (Scott, cat. D36, Van den Brink et al. repr. cat. 51a, p. 201); Cornelis Bega, Seated Woman with a Shawl and Study of Her Head, red chalk on off-white paper, 267 × 170 mm, private collection (Scott, cat. D31; Van den Brink et al., cat. 51).

8 Attributed to Cornelis Bega, Peasant Family (Fig. 1), oil on panel, 41 × 35 cm, private collection, Austria (Scott, cat. 63; Van den Brink et al., repr. cat. 63b, p. 227). Although the painting is reportedly signed and dated 1661, Peter van den Brink is uncertain of the attribution; but if done by a follower, it is testament to the drawing’s importance to Bega and his immediate milieu.


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gift of George Abrams in memory of Professor Martin S. Feldstein
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Mary Ann Scott, "Cornelis Bega as Painter and Draughtsman" (1984), University Microfilms, vol. 1, cat. no. D23, pp. 90 and 377, repr. vol. 2, fig. 129
  • Handzeichnungen und Aquarelle 1500-1900, auct. cat., Thomas Le Claire Kunsthandel (Hamburg, Germany, 1987), cat. no. 28, pp. 60-1, repr.
  • William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 93, pp. 10 and 204-5, repr.
  • Annemarie Stefes, Niederländische Zeichnungen 1450-1850: Kupferstichkabinett der Hamburger Kunsthalle, ed. Andreas Stolzenburg and Hubertus Gaßner, Böhlau Verlag (Cologne, 2011), vol. 1, under cat. no. 55, p. 92 (n. 2)
  • Peter van den Brink and Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann, Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten, exh. cat., Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Berlin, 2012), cat. no. 63, pp. 227-9 and 280, repr. and pp. 45 and 57, under cat. no. 6, p. 99, under cat. no. 38, p. 173 and under cat. no. 199 and 201
  • William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 3, pp. 34-36, repr. p. 35

Exhibition History

  • Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 02/23/1991 - 04/18/1991; Albertina Gallery, Vienna, 05/16/1991 - 06/30/1991; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 01/22/1992 - 04/22/1992; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/10/1992 - 12/06/1992
  • Abrams 50th reunion exhibition, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/01/2004 - 06/14/2004
  • Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum Aachen, Aachen, 03/15/2012 - 06/10/2012; Gemäldegalerie Berlin, 07/01/2012 - 10/02/2012

Subjects and Contexts

  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

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