A small wood panel depicting a bearded man and long dismissed as a fake did originate in Rembrandts’ workshop and may even be from the master’s own hand, according to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
The painting, which was left to the museum in 1951, had been examined by the authoritative Rembrandt Research Project led by art historian Ernst van de Wetering, who declared it could not have been made during the artist’s lifetime
However, some 40 years later, an investigation of the panel by a leading tree expert has shown the panel was made from wood from the same tree used to paint Rembrandt’s Andromeda Chained to the Rocks and Jan Lievens’ portrait of Rembrandt’s mother. Both paintings date from 1630 which would put the painting in the right time frame.
The revelation came about because An van Camp, the Ashmolean’s curator of northern European art, was preparing an exhibition about the young Rembrandt and had always had always had a ‘niggling doubt’ about the painting, which had been confined to the cellar.
‘It is what Rembrandt does. He does these tiny head studies of old men with forlorn, melancholic, pensive looks. It is very typical of what Rembrandt does in Leiden around 1630,’ she told the Guardian.
‘Examination of this small painting suggests that prior to the earliest known photograph (published in 1936), touches of paint were added by an unknown hand which have considerably disrupted the subtle illusion of depth and movement,’ conservator Jevon Thistlewood said.‘When the exhibition closes we will begin the process of restoring the painting and we can’t wait to see what we find.’
If proved to be from Rembrandt’s hand, it would bring the number of his known paintings to 343. In 2018 Dutch art historian Jan Six bought a life size Portrait of a Young Gentleman at auction in Britain, the first unknown painting by Rembrandt to turn up in 44 years. It’s claim to authenticity was supported by Van de Wetering.
Earlier this year Van de Wetering rejected a claim by the Allen Town museum that their Portrait of a Woman was the real thing. calling it ‘a commercial trick’.
He has not yet commented on the rehabilitation of the bearded man, which goes on show at the Ashmolean on Wednesday.
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