Did Reynolds Try to Improve Rembrandt?

Susanna and the Elders (1647) is one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated masterpieces. The grand history painting, depicting the Biblical story of Susanna being blackmailed by lustful elders, hangs in the Gemäldegalerie museum in Berlin.

However, the art restorer Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg has discovered that the painting has undergone a number of major alterations to the work that were not previously known about. She discovered traces of pigments that did not exist in the 17th century as well as passages that were painted in a style that she would not normally recognize as Rembrandt’s. An x-ray of the canvas revealed that it had in fact undergone major alterations, with large areas having been washed out with solvents and re-painted in a lighter shade.

Interestingly, the changes are believed to be the work of the great English painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), who was a collector of Rembrandt’s work. According to experts from the Gemäldegalerie, Reynolds is also responsible for alterations to a number of other paintings in his collection in order to suit his tastes, a claim supported by the Reynolds Research Project. Gemäldegalerie director Bern Lindemann has said “This was a pretty radical alteration. Only the figures correspond to the version of the painting that Rembrandt finished” adding, “Clearly he thought the painting was in need of quite an improvement.”

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