The Ashmolean museum in Oxford will this week put on display Head of a Bearded Man (c. 1630) which was bequeathed to it in 1951 as a Rembrandt panel. In 1981, it was rejected by the Rembrandt Research Project, the world’s leading authority on the artist that effectively has a final say on attributions, theguardian.com reported.
“They saw it in the flesh and decided it wasn’t a Rembrandt painting,” said the Ashmolean’s curator of Northern European art, An Van Camp. “They said it might be an imitator painting in the style of Rembrandt and is possibly made before the end of the 17th century, so not even in Rembrandt’s lifetime.”
Dispirited curators moved it to the museum’s stores in the basement. Van Camp joined the museum in 2015 and became aware of the postcard-sized painting that “no one wanted to talk about because it was this fake Rembrandt”.
Van Camp was soon asked to help organize a major Young Rembrandt exhibition, which opened at the museum in February before closing in March.
It had always niggled at her that the panel might not be a fake. “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.”
The panel was analyzed by Peter Klein, one of the world’s leading dendrochronologists, and it was established that the wood panel came from the same tree used for Rembrandt’s Andromeda Chained to the Rocks, which is in the Mauritshuis in the Hague and Jan Lievens’ Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother, in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, Germany. Both were painted around 1630 when the artists, friends from childhood, were working in Leiden in the Netherlands.
Klein said the wood panel came from an oak tree felled in the Baltic region between 1618 and 1628. “Allowing a minimum of two years for the seasoning of the wood, we can firmly date the portrait to 1620-30,” he said.
Van Camp said all the research pointed to the panel being at least from the workshop of Rembrandt. More investigations will follow to determine whether there is evidence of Rembrandt’s own hand in the work.
The Ashmolean and the Young Rembrandt exhibition reopened on August 10 with lockdown delaying the addition of the newly attributed panel, which will take place on September 2.
Van Camp said: “It is very exciting. It is bringing the painting back in the fold.”
Young Rembrandt is at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford until November 1.