Thanks to an in-depth restoration process, the National Trust has been able to confirm that a previously doubted self-portrait of Rembrandt is, in fact, genuine
Painted by the Dutch Master in 1635, the portrait’s authenticity was thrown into dispute in 1968 when Rembrandt specialist Horst Gerson of the Rembrandt Research Project, felt that certain areas of the painting didn’t correlate with the painter’s style at that date.
In 2005 one of the experts who worked with Gerson, Ernst van de Wetering, took another look at the painting having seen an X-radiograph – an infra-red scan that reveals areas of paintings covered up by past restorations – of the work and concluded that the painting might well be genuine.
To investigate van de Wetering’s suspicions, the portrait was sent to the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridgeshire, world experts in the conservation of easel paintings. Here the painting underwent careful cleaning and the removal of several layers of old, yellowing varnish (to see how the process worked, take a look at the video below).
Beneath these layers was discovered a much more detailed and more colourful painting typical of Rembrandt’s technique.
‘What was revealed was a true depth of colour, much more detail and a three-dimensional appearance to the fabric of Rembrandt’s cloak which had previously been obscured and detracted from the quality of the work in the eyes of the Rembrandt Research Project,’ says Christine Slottvedd Kimbriel, the conservator who worked closely with van de Wetering on the restoration.
The painting is one of 40 to 50 self portraits that Rembrandt made during his lifetime. It shows the artist aged 29 wearing some flamboyant ostrich feathers and a dark cloak. Below you can see the painting before (left) and after the cleaning process (right).
Infra-red and x-ray photography also showed a number of changes to the composition (such as the addition of Rembrandt’s left hand and changes to the outline of the figure) which Kimbriel confirms are typical of Rembrandt’s ‘dynamic’ painting process.
Now that the varnish has been cleaned off, it is much easier to see the original flesh tones and three-dimensionality of the cloak in the portrait, which the National Trust has playfully dubbed an Old Master ‘selfie’. Now that it is a confirmed Rembrandt, the portrait is thought to be worth in the region of £30m.
To see the ‘selfie’ in all its restored glory, and to get a sense of the amazing research process behind discoveries such as this, head to Buckland Abbey from Friday 13th June where the painting will be the focus of an exhibition celebrating its re-discovery and restoration.
Rembrandt Revealed will be at Buckland Abbey Yelverton, Devon PL20 6EY from Friday 13th June