The Alchemist

Object Details


The Alchemist


Cornelis Bega (Dutch, 1631 or 1632 - 1664)






Oil on panel


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

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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, 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, 1708 - 1780 [sold, La Vallière sale, Paillet, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, February 21, 1781, lot 78, to Jacques Langlier.]

1781 -

Jacques Lenglier, French, died 1814 (Paris, France)

- 1827

Frederick Augustus, duke of York, 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) (Cat. 3)
  • 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) (70)
  • Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, (Aachen), March 15 to June 10, 2012
  • Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, (Berlin), July 1 to October 2, 2012

"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, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 139, fig. 200.

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

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