March 29 2012
Exciting news from Woburn Abbey, home of the Dukes of Bedford. It turns out their overlooked 'Portrait of an Old Man' is a Rembrandt, and has been approved as such by Rembrandt connoisseur Ernst van de Wetering. From The Guardian:
"We were all so excited at the expert verdict – the Duke was absolutely cock-a-hoop," said Abbey curator Chris Gravett, who had noticed the evident quality of the painting during his nine years working for the duke, and had become increasingly intrigued by it. This was despite competition from a collection that includes 10 paintings by Van Dyck, 12 by Reynolds, three Gainsboroughs, and a room virtually wallpapered with 24 Canalettos bought by the 4th Duke on the Grand Tour in the 18th century. [...]
Since its brief outing to an exhibition of treasures from Woburn Abbey at the Royal Academy in 1950, where its authenticity was questioned, The Old Rabbi has hung high up in the private library among a group of paintings which have turned out not to be what previous dukes of Bedford had hoped, including a "not Van Dyck", a "not Hogarth", and two others not by Rembrandt.
Although there is no reference to The Old Rabbi in the family archives before a mention of it being cleaned in 1791, Gravett believes it was probably acquired with the two "not Rembrandts" in the 1740s.
It will now be taken down and displayed at head height, as the star exhibit among the display of gold and silver in Woburn Abbey's vaults when the house reopens to the public next weekend.
Should pay a few bills. Woburn Abbey's website gives more details on the scientific analysis of the discovery, and reveals that the Portrait of an Old Man is a pendant to another previously overlooked Rembrandt in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin:
As Professor van de Wetering has highlighted: “This painting is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive evocations of dignity in old age. The way the light makes the figure emerge from the dusky space and illuminates the wrinkled skin of the face, and the hands resting on a stick, makes it an outstanding specimen of Rembrandt’s art.” It is therefore implied that this is more than a study of old age. It is believed that the Woburn picture and a painting in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair. Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case. This along with the similarities of design and biblical style: the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains has led to the suggestion from Professor van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.