The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Alchemist

Object Details


The Alchemist


Cornelis Bega (Dutch, 1631/1632 - 1664)






Oil on panel

Object Number:



36.2 × 32.2 cm (14 1/4 × 12 11/16 in.)

See more

See less

Object Description

Oblivious to his cluttered surroundings, the unkempt figure of an alchemist sits among a chaotic jumble of paraphernalia. He holds a scale while weighing out a substance for one of his experiments in making gold. By the seventeenth century, alchemy was no longer considered to be a respectable science, and its practitioners were often the subject of ridicule.

In this genre scene, Cornelis Bega commented on time wasted on materialistic and futile pursuits. Like other Dutch artists of his time, Bega was a close observer of natural appearances. Textures and surfaces of the assorted cracked clay and glass vessels are accurately described. Light pouring in through the open window and the harmonious tones of brown, gray, and blue give the painting a cozy warmth.

- 1780

Louis-César de La Baume Le Blanc, duc de La Vallière, French, 1708 - 1780 (Paris, France), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1780 - 1781

Estate of Louis-César de La Baume Le Blanc, duc de La Vallière, French, 1708 - 1780 [sold, La Vallière sale, Paillet, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, February 21, 1781, lot 78, to Jacques Langlier (Lenglier).]
Source: Paillet, Paris. Catalogue des tableaux [...]. February 21, 1781 (annotated catalogue).

1781 -

Jacques Lenglier, French, 1732 - 1814 (Paris, France)

- 1827

Prince Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, 1763 - 1827 (London, England) [sold, York sale, Christie's, London, April 7, 1827, lot 93, to Norton.]

1827 -
- 1935

John Charles William Sawbridge-Erle-Drax (Bilting House, Olantigh, Wye, Kent, England) [sold, Sawbridge-Erle-Drax sale, Christie's, London, May 10, 1935, lot 70, to Davey.]

1935 -
after 1935 - 1939

Sir William Jackson Pope, 1870 - 1939 (Cambridge, England)

by 1966

Fisher Scientific Company (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

- 1984

H. Shickman Gallery (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting (March 18 to November 18, 1984)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia), March 18 to May 13, 1984
Elegance and Uncouth Manners - Cornelis Bega (1631/32 - 1664) (March 15 to October 2, 2012)
  • Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum (Aachen), March 15 to June 10, 2012
  • Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin), July 1 to October 2, 2012
Art of Alchemy (October 11, 2016 to February 12, 2017)
  • The Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles), October 11, 2016 to February 12, 2017

Paillet, Paris. Catalogue des tableaux précieux, des plus grands maîtres des écoles flamande & hollande; qui composoient le Cabinet de Monsieur le Duc de la Valliere. February 21, 1781, p. 30, lot 78.

Christie's, London. A Catalogue of the Valuable [...] Pictures of his Royal Highness, the Duke of York. April 7, 1827, p. 7, lot 93.

Christie's, London. Pictures by Old Masters. The Property of J.C.W. Sawbridge-Erle-Drax and others. May 10, 1935, p. 15, lot 70.

Read, John. "The Pope Collection of Alchemical Paintings and Engravings." Nature 147 (February 22, 1941), p. 243.

Lennep, Jacques van. "L'alchimiste: Origine et développement d'un thème de la peinture du dix-septième siècle." Revue belge d'archéologie d'histoire de l'art 35 (1966), p. 160, no. 11.

Bader, Alfred. "Cornelis Bega's Alchemist: A Problem in Art History." Aldrichimica Acta 4, no. 2 (1971), pp. 17-20, cover ill.

Kremers, Edward, and Georg Urdang. Kremers and Urdang's History of Pharmacy. 4th ed., rev. by Glenn Sonnedecker (Philadelphia and Toronto: Lippincott, 1976), p. 44, ill.

McTavish, David, ed. Pictures from the Age of Rembrandt: Selections from the Personal Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Bader, exh. cat. (Kingston: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 1984), p. 62.

Scott, Mary Ann. "Cornelis Bega (1631/32-1664) as Painter and Draughtsman." Ph.D. diss. (University of Maryland, 1984), p. 334, no. 146.

Sutton, Peter C., ed. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, exh. cat. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984), pp. 133-34, no. 3, pl. 34, entry by Peter C. Sutton.

"Acquisitions/1984." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 13 (1985), pp. 208-9, no. 135, ill.

Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 139, fig. 200.

Sutton, Peter C. "Recent Patterns of Public and Private Collecting of Dutch Art." In Great Dutch Paintings from America, exh. cat. Ben Broos et al., eds. (The Hague: Mauritshuis, with Waanders, 1990), p. 107.

Kelso, William M. Jamestown Rediscovery I: Search for 1607 James Fort (Jamestown: Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 1995), p. 11, fig. 17.

Scott, Mary Ann. "Cornelis Bega." In The Dictionary of Art. Jane Turner, ed. Vol. 3, B to Biard (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 495, ill.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 8, ill.

Kelso, William M., and Beverly A. Straube. Jamestown Rediscovery VI (Jamestown: Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 2000), p. 37, fig. 36.

Franits, Wayne. Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting: Its Stylistic and Thematic Evolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), pp. 140-42, 282n43, fig. 126.

Clippel, Karolien de. "Two Sides of the Same Coin? Genre Painting in the North and South During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries." Simiolus 32, no. 1 (2006), pp. 30, fig. 12.

Glatstein, Jeremy. "Sigismund Bacstrom's Alchemical Manuscripts." Getty Research Journal 2 (2010), pp. 166-67, fig. 4.

Lindemann, Bernd Wolfgang. "Begas malerische Virtuosität." In Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten, exh. cat. Peter van den Brink and Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann, eds. (Aachen: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, with Belser, 2012), p. 33.

Brink, Peter van den, and Bernd Wolfgang Lindemann, eds. Cornelis Bega: Eleganz und raue Sitten, exh. cat. (Aachen: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, with Belser, 2012), pp. 243-46, 283-84, no. 70, ill., entry by Sylvia Böhmer.