Painting stored in museum basement could be authentic Rembrandt

A painting stored in the basement of an Oxford museum for 40 years could be an authentic Rembrandt.

Bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum by a British art collector and dealer in 1951, ‘Head of a Bearded Man’ was first catalogued as an early work by Rembrandt. When the Rembrandt Research Project reviewed it in 1982, it dismissed the painting on wood panel as a copy of a lost original and it was placed in storage.

Now the Ashmolean has announced that the postcard-sized picture of an old bearded man may be by the hand of the Dutch master himself.

Ashmolean curator of northern European art, An Van Camp, was always bothered by the thought that the painting might not be a “fake” Rembrandt. “It is what Rembrandt does,” she explained, “He does these tiny head studies of old men with forlorn, melancholic, pensive looks”.  

When the Museum’s new ‘Young Rembrandt’ exhibition was forced to close in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Camp and conservators Jevon Thistlewood and Morwenna Blewett seized the opportunity to re-examine the painting.

They undertook analysis with the help of world leading dendochronologist, Professor Peter Klein. Klein established that the painting’s wood panel came from the same tree used for Rembrandt’s ‘Andromeda Chained to the Rocks’ and Jan Lievens’ ‘Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother’. Both works were painted when the artists were working in Leiden (ca. 1630).

Factoring in two years for the seasoning of the wood, Klein dates the portrait of the downcast bearded man to 1620-30. The findings have led the Ashmolean to confirm that the painting is at least from the workshop of Rembrandt. Further investigation will be undertaken to determine whether Rembrandt’s own hand is evident in the work.

It is incredibly exciting to find out that a previously unidentified painting can be placed in the workshop of one of the most famous artists of all times”, Van Camp said.

The ‘Young Rembrandt’ exhibition reopened on 10 August 2020 and ‘Head of a Bearded Man’ will be added to the display from 2 September 2020.

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