Archive for the ‘Rembrandt’ Category

The many faces of a Rembrandt

June 10, 2014
Four images of the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey (clockwise from top left): after cleaning, x-ray, before cleaning, infrared. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Four images of the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey (clockwise from top left): after cleaning, x-ray, before cleaning, infrared. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The results of the technical investigation into the Rembrandt self portrait at Buckland Abbey, which I reported on earlier, have just been announced.

The self portrait after cleaning. Inv. no. 810136 ©National Trust/Chris Titmus

The self portrait after cleaning. Inv. no. 810136 ©National Trust/Chris Titmus

For more than forty-five years the authorship of this self portrait was in doubt. But the newly discovered physical evidence supports the opinion of Rembrandt scholar Dr Ernst van de Wetering that the picture is largely by the artist himself.

Painting conservation adviser Tina Sitwell inspecting the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Painting conservation adviser Tina Sitwell inspecting the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The self portrait has been cleaned and examined at the Hamilton Kerr Institute. This included visual inspection under magnification, infra-red reflectography, x-radiography, raking light photography and pigment and medium analysis.

X-ray image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

X-ray image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

The wood of the panel was identified as being of the poplar/willow family and the pigments include azurite, smalt and bone black. These are all materials that Rembrandt and his pupils used.

Infrared image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Infrared image of the self portrait. ©National Trust/Brian Cleckner

Signs pointing more specifically to the master himself were found when cleaning and removal of the yellowed varnish revealed the original depth of colour and skilful brushwork. The signature – thought possibly to be a later addition – was discovered to be contemporary with the creation of the painting.

Technicians Simon Jacobs and Martin Bartyle hang the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Technicians Simon Jacobs and Martin Bartyle hang the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The infra-red and x-ray images showed how the composition was changed as the painting progressed, something that is again consistent with an original work by a master and not with a copy being made by an assistant.

Young visitor Harry Dempster views the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

Young visitor Harry Dempster views the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steven Haywood

The investigation was funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. The picture will be the centre-piece of an exhibition at Buckland Abbey entitled Rembrandt Revealed, opening on Friday 13 June.

Traces of Rembrandt

April 1, 2014
Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Research continues into the Rembrandt self-portrait recently allocated to Buckland Abbey in lieu of inheritance tax.

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The tests and analysis undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute, in order to establish how confident we can be whether the portrait was actually painted by Rembrandt himself, are almost completed. But some interesting facts and images have already emerged.

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray images show what looks like the outline of a lace cuff, suggesting that the artist sketched in an arm but then changed his mind. Pentimenti like this make it more likely that a painting is an autograph work rather than a copy, as copyists would naturally follow the original rather than chop and change.

Date (1635) on the back of the panel - but is it original? ©National Trust Images

Date (1635) on the back of the panel – but is it original? ©National Trust Images

The date 1635 has been written on the back of the panel, matching  the ‘f.1635’ painted on the front, but these dates could have been added later and are not conclusive by themselves.

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The back also shows two labels documenting the former ownership of the painting by the Princes of Liechtenstein, and its inclusion in an exhibition in Luzern in 1948. The number 84 corresponds to its inventory number when it was in the Galerie Liechtenstein in Vienna. And traces have been found of a seal fixed to one of the front corners, apparently similar to the seals regularly affixed to the paintings in the Liechtenstein collection.

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt's cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt’s cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The relatively crude brushwork seen in parts of the picture would be consistent with Rembrandt’s style in the 1630s – as also seen in, for instance, Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery in London.

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The sitter’s highly theatrical costume includes a medallion on a chain – it would be nice to find out if this represents a particular symbol or ornament, or whether it is purely ‘impressionistic’.

We await further news from the conservation studio.

When is a Rembrandt a Rembrandt?

March 19, 2013
Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet, at Buckland Abbey. NT810136 ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet, at Buckland Abbey. NT810136 ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Rembrandt’s oeuvre is a fascinating case study in how paintings are evaluated differently by succeeding generations.

When the above portrait of Rembrandt was donated to Buckland Abbey in 2010 it was catalogued as ‘studio of’ rather than as by the artist himself. It had been described like this since 1968 when Rembrandt scholar Horst Gerson suggested that it was painted by one of the artist’s pupils. This judgement was then confirmed by the Rembrandt Research Project, a committee dedicated to tracking down and authenticating the artist’s oeuvre.

David Taylor, the National Trust's curator of pictures, scrutinising the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

David Taylor, the National Trust’s curator of pictures, scrutinising the self portrait. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Prior to that it had been considered a work by the artist himself. It had previously been in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein and in the 1960s it was acquired by Harold Samuel, Lord Samuel of Wych Cross, from the London dealer Edward Speelman.

©National Trust/Steve Haywood

©National Trust/Steve Haywood

Lord Samuel was a property developer (who founded and built up Land Securities) and philanthropist who assembled an important collection of Netherlandish old master paintings, many of which were bequeathed to the City of London and are now on display at Mansion House.

In 2010 two paintings from the estate of Lord Samuel’s wife, Edna, Lady Samuel, were accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Buckland. At the same time the estate donated three more paintings directly to Buckland, including the Rembrandt self portrait – then still described as ‘studio of’.

The self portrait being rehung after inspection ©National Trust/Steve Haywood-

The self portrait being rehung after inspection ©National Trust/Steve Haywood-

But now Ernst van de Wetering, the chair of the Rembrandt Research Project, has reversed his assessment of the picture, in view of subsequent research into the artist’s work. He has noted that the same relatively crude brushwork can also be seen in other Rembrandt pictures of the 1630s, such as Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery, London, and the Rabbi in the Royal Collection.

The frame being given a once-over by Patricia Burtnyk, house steward at Buckland. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

The frame being given a once-over by Patricia Burtnyk, house steward at Buckland. ©National Trust/Steve Haywood

The picture will soon undergo further technical analysis funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, to try to firm up this re-attribution. The research will include dendrochronology, study of the pigments and the paint layers, infrared reflectography and ex-ray photography.

Regardless of the ultimate verdict, however, one undoubted benefit of this ongoing process of attribution (and reattribution, and re-reattribution) has been to make us all look more closely at this beautiful and intriguing portrait.