Rembrandt self-portrait authenticity established

Its authenticity has long been disputed but now, after many, many years of uncertainty, a self-portrait by Rembrandt has been determined to be a genuine work of art by the celebrated old master.
Although the painting, believed to have been executed in 1635, has come into the ownership of many historical luminaries over the years – princes and the odd property magnate – faith in its legitimacy had taken a knock in the sixties.
At the time, experts, including the late art historian Horst Gerson and the Rembrandt Research Project, concluded that it was not delivered with the same triumph as the Dutch painter.
If anything, it had all the hallmarks of a ‘well done copy’, one likely achieved by one of Rembrandt’s pupils. It was certainly not a contemporary fake, that much was agreed by all.
So pronounced was the ambiguity over the genuineness of this painting, that since then it has been effectively displaced. However, since the turn of the century, further scrutiny has led many to question their previous assessments.
One such individual who originally considered it not to be the work of the old master was the world leading Rembrandt authority Ernst van de Wetering. That was until 2005, when he began to doubt his former hesitations.
It would take another seven years for the expert to trigger another major appraisal. In 2012, when he saw the work at Buckland Abbey in Devon, something different greeted him. He saw the truth of Rembrandt in the work. After all, no-one else could have painted the iconic artist as he did – in terms of style and narrative – and this work now suggested as much.
It was agreed that the painting would be reassessed by professionals at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge. After eight months of scrupulous analysis – achieved, in particular, through a thorough technical examination – the establishment concluded that it was Rembrandt.
“‘The self-portrait went through a series of investigate analyses to include close visual examination under magnification, infra-red reflectography, x-radiography, raking light photography and pigment and medium analysis,” explained Christine Slottvedd Kimbriel, paintings conservator at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.
“Careful cleaning and removal of several layers of aged and yellowed revealed the original colours and painting style beneath which was much more detailed and gave a three-dimensional appearance to the fabric in Rembrandt’s cloak.”
This observation is key because the process of cleaning of the work has been most revealing, added David Taylor, curator of pictures and sculptures at the National Trust and a specialist in sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings.
The yellowing of the varnish distorted the aesthetic, therefore giving it a facade that was less accomplished than one would usually assume of Rembrandt. Once that was removed, Mr Taylor continued, you could begin to see the work for what it is – a breathtaking example of a timeless artist doing only what he knows.
“Now you can really see all the flesh tones and other colours, as well as the way in which the paint has been handled – it’s now much easier to appreciate it as a Rembrandt,” he concluded.
The work can be seen in a new exhibition entitled Rembrandt Revealed at Buckland Abbey, which also documents in detail the fascinating story that has led to its rightful attribution.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.