An old bearded man surrounded by hefty account ledgers counts money at his desk. Completely unaware of the viewer, he contemplates one of the coins. Images of moneychangers, moneylenders or tax collectors were conceived as allegories of avarice, a theme that can be traced to medieval times. In sixteenth-century Antwerp Marinus van Reymerswaele and Quinten Metsys gave the iconography its recognizable form and at the beginning of the seventeenth century Abraham Bloemaert and Gerrit van Honthorst secured the subject’s popularity for subsequent generations. Rembrandt’s Rich Man of 1627 in Berlin (Gemäldegalerie) is indebted to these artists and in turn may have served as Koninck’s inspirational model.
Another version in the Statens Museum, Copenhagen is dated 1635, suggesting that the present composition is from that same year, or possibly slightly earlier. Koninck would return to this theme repeatedly in his career. One of the best-known interpretations is the one in the Boijmans-Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, which is of 1654.
This hitherto unpublished painting is a spectacular addition to Koninck’s oeuvre. An early masterpiece, it shows Koninck exploring Rembrandt’s idiom. Typical hallmarks that Koninck adopts are Rembrandt’s predilection for bearded old men as a picturesque motif, his masterly chiaroscuro and treatment of light. Striking here is the almost supernatural golden light and the tender attuned palette. Careful contrasts of light and dark subtly suggest space and atmosphere.
Koninck painted this work in a remarkably free manner, with beautiful wet-in-wet passages all over. Pentimenti testifying to the painting process can be observed in various places such as near the book lying open at the left and the man’s beret. A third, large pentimento is in the right background in the door opening, and suggests the artist initially thought to add a second person. Koninck painted the texture of the miser’s beard by scratching in the wet paint with the end of his brush. This vibrant image has an unmistakably lyrical quality.
A pupil of David Colijn, François Venant and Claes Moeyaert, Salomon Koninck became a member of the Amsterdam Guild of Saint Luke in 1630, as his biographer Cornelis de Bie relates in his Gulden Cabinet of 1662. He married the daughter of the artist Adriaen van Nieulandt and was closely associated with Rembrandt’s circle.