Old Woman Cutting Bread
Gerrit Dou (Dutch, 1613–1675)
Overall: 28 x 22 cm (11 x 8 11/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on panel
Art of the Netherlands in the 17th Century Gallery (Gallery 242)
Frugality and care-taking were considered important virtues in 17th-century Dutch society. Exemplifying these traits, the woman in Dou’s painting provides nourishment for boys who have either just returned from or are about to set off for school. Meals were a time for children to learn important lessons in civility and appropriate behavior. Dou was known for his genre scenes, featuring glimpses of Dutch daily life, and for his style, known as fijnschilderij (fine-painting). He was also famous for his use of artificial illumination, like the work’s candle, which he began introducing into his compositions during the 1650s.
Probably between 1684 and 1716, acquired by Johann Wilhelm, Elector Pfalz von Neuburg (b. 1658 - d. 1716), Düsseldorf [see note 1]; by descent to his brother, Karl III Philip, Elector von der Pfalz (b. 1661- d. 1742), Mannheim [see note 2]; by descent within the family to Karl IV Theodor, Elector von der Pfalz (b. 1724- d. 1799), Mannheim [see note 3]; by descent to Maximilian IV Joseph (b. 1756 - d. 1825), Mannheim and Munich [see note 4]; by descent to his son, Ludwig I, King of Bavaria (b. 1786 - d. 1868), Munich; 1836, transferred to the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (inv. no. 580) [see note 5]; March, 1937, exchanged by the Alte Pinakothek with Eduard Plietzsch, Berlin; April, 1937, with Heinz Steinmeyer, Berlin [see note 6]; 1937, sold by Steinmeyer to a private collector; until 2003, by descent within the family; 2003, sold by the family to the MFA. (Accession Date: March 26, 2003) NOTES:  The early provenance of this painting was established by Carla Kunkel, who kindly shared the results of her research (see correspondence in MFA curatorial file). By 1684, Elector Johann Wilhelm of the Palatine (r. 1690-1716) had already begun to assemble his collection of about 350 paintings through a network of dealers throughout Europe. An inventory of his collection, made at the time of his death and published in 1751, records the MFA painting as one of seven works by Dou: "An old woman cuts bread, near her is a young boy with a spoon in his hand, and a small child sits at the table, on which is a ham. By Gerard Dou." See Johan von Gool, "Catalogus en uitvoerige Beschriyvinge der voortrefflyke onschatbaere Schilderkunst," in De nieuwe Schouburg der nederlantsche kunstschilders en Schilderessen, vol. 2 (s'Gravenhage, 1751).  Karl Philipp inherited his brother's painting collection and transferred it from Düsseldorf to Mannheim in 1730. The painting is recorded in the inventory drawn up at Mannheim in 1730 (no. 132: "An old woman cutting bread, with a boy holding a candle in his hand") and is visible in the drawings made of the cabinet walls there in 1731. For these documents, see Everhard Korthals Altes, "The collections of the Palatine Electors: new information, documents and drawings" Burlington Magazine 145, no. 1200 (March, 2003): 209 (fig. 98), 212, and Appendix, no. 132. The painting is also included in the 1756 "inventory of the princely art collection at Mannheim" (Verzeichnis der in den Churfürstlichen Cabinetten zu Mannheim befindlichen Mahlereyen, no. 109: "An old woman sits at a table, cutting a loaf of bread; in front of the table stands a boy with a light, behind is a smaller boy, who eats something with a spoon"). See "Geschichte der kurfürstlichen Gemäldegalerie in Mannheim," in Mannheimer Geschichtsblätter 27 (1926): 38.  In 1777, Karl Theodor, already Elector of the Palatine, inherited the Electorate of Bavaria and the estates of the House of Wittelsbach. Thereafter, the Mannheim Galerie was legally merged with the Wittelsbach family collections.  With Karl Theodor's death in 1799, the Sulzbach line of succession became extinct. The Electorates of both the Palatine and Bavaria passed to Maximilian Joseph, who, as Duke of Zweibrücken (since 1795) was the most senior prince. He became Maximilian I, King of Bavaria, in 1806, at which point the Mannheim Galerie was transferred to the Wittelsbach estate in Munich.  In 1836 King Ludwig I (r. 1825 - 1848) opened the Pinakothek in Munich to exhibit the royal painting collection. It was renamed the Alte Pinakothek with the opening of the Neue Pinakothek across the street in 1853.  In the 1930s, the director of the Bavarian State Paintings Collection, Ernst Buchner, deaccessioned many paintings at the Alte Pinakothek to trade for German works of art. At least seventy-four Dutch paintings, including the Dou, were deaccessioned at this time. In a letter to Dr. Buchner of February 22, 1937, Eduard Plietzsch confirmed the conditions of the trade: in exchange for three German altarpiece panels, he would receive the Dou and a small landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder; this is confirmed in the registers of the Alte Pinakothek. According to David Alan Brown and Jane Van Niemen (Raphael and the Beautiful Banker [London and New Haven, 2005], p. 218, n. 17), the official date of the trade was March 3, 1937. While Plietzsch received the painting, by April the dealer Heinz Steinmeyer was offering it for sale. In a letter of April 21, 1937 Steinmeyer attested that the Alte Pinakothek had asked to trade the Dou for a German painting. In order to compensate the seller of the German painting, Steinmeyer needed first to sell the Dou. For further information on the deaccessions, see Jonathan Petropoulos, The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany (Oxford, 2000), 31-32.
Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund