Exhibitions

Discovery of two genuine Rembrandts at Statens Museum for Kunst

New studies lead to discovery of two genuine Rembrandts at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

Photo: museum director Allis Helleland, Curator Lene Bøgh Rønberg and Head of Conservation Jørgen Wadum in front of the two paintings reattributed to Rembrandt.

Photo: museum director Allis Helleland, Curator Lene Bøgh Rønberg and Head of Conservation Jørgen Wadum in front of the two paintings reattributed to Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn., The Crusader, ca. 1659-61, Oil on canvas. 79 x 65 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst

Rembrandt van Rijn., The Crusader, ca. 1659-61, Oil on canvas. 79 x 65 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst

Two paintings at Statens Museum for Kunst have reattributed to Rembrandt. After three years of studies conducted in close co-operation with international experts, Statens Museum for Kunst was in a position to conclude that in addition to a rich collection of prints and drawings by Rembrandt, the museum also owns two genuine paintings by the master himself. The two "new" paintings play a pivotal part in the exhibition Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop, which opens on 4 February 2006.

A combination of sophisticated technical studies and art historical analysis created the basis for attributing the paintings depicting a crusader and an old man to the Dutch master painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69). This marks a return to prominence for the two sketches The Crusader, c.1659-61, and Study of an Old Man in Profile, c. 1630, which have lived a life of obscurity in the collections at Statens Museum for Kunst after having been rejected as genuine Rembrandts at different points during the 20th century.

A harsh fate lay in wait for the ten paintings in the SMK collections that were regarded as genuine Rembrandts back in 1931. A mere 15 years later the figure had been halved, and in 1987 the last painting to be regarded as a Rembrandt - the important piece Supper at Emmaus - was rejected by the Rembrandt Research Project. Says museum director Allis Helleland, "In light of the sad Rembrandt-related history at the museum, it has been a very great gift indeed to have several of the world's pre-eminent Rembrandt scholars take such an active part in the reattribution of The Crusader and Study of an Old Man in Profile. Rembrandt's exquisite portrait of a woman at the Nivaagaard Collection is now joined by these two gentlemen. That will help give Danish audiences an impression of the remarkable range of Rembrandt's paintings."

Rembrandt van Rijn. Study of an Old Man in Profilel, ca. 1630, Oil on wood. 19,5 x 16 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst

Rembrandt van Rijn. Study of an Old Man in Profilel, ca. 1630, Oil on wood. 19,5 x 16 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst

Getting under the skin of Rembrandt and his circle
In 2003 Statens Museum for Kunst initiated an extensive study project which was to shed new light on those paintings from its collection that have been in some way associated with Rembrandt over the years. The studies took place in co-operation with an international panel of experts comprising the head of the Rembrandt Research Project, professor dr. Ernst van de Wetering, research technician with the Rembrandt Research Project Karin Groen, senior conservator David Bomford from the National Gallery in London, and head of conservation at Statens Museum for Kunst Jørgen Wadum, who for some of the project's duration was head conservator at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Based on the latest knowledge about Rembrandt and the artists in the circle around him - and technical studies such as x-rays, infrared reflectography, dendrochronology (the science of dating wood), studies of the canvas thread count, ground, layers of paint, etc. - the museum has obtained much more knowledge about the works in question. For example, the two reattributed works have been placed at either end of Rembrandt's life's work. The studies are documented in a comprehensive book published in connection with the exhibition Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop.

The Crusader
In 1911 the Rembrandt connoisseur and then director of Statens Museum for Kunst, Karl Madsen, found The Crusader in a remote corner of Fredensborg Castle where it had been placed in temporary storage. Despite Karl Madsen's evident enthusiasm for the painting, its status was soon called into question, and in 1969 it was rejected as a Rembrandt. The most recent studies now tell us that the painting is a sketch for The Knight with the Falcon (Göteborgs Konstmuseum). X-rays support this assumption by demonstrating that the underlying layers of paint are built up in a manner typical of Rembrandt. The piece presumably depicts the Dutch Saint Bavo, and the painting has the convincing oscillation between the precise and the spontaneous that is so typical of Rembrandt. At the same time it exemplifies the pastose manner of painting characteristic of the artist's late work. There are, however, some signs to suggest that parts of the painting were done by one of Rembrandt's students, a common practice at the master's workshop.

Study of an Old Man in Profile
The small Study of an Old Man in Profile is another find made by Karl Madsen at Fredensborg Castle, where he discovered the painting in a storage attic in 1899. However, Rembrandt scholars doubted this attribution from as far back as 1933 onwards. Their doubts were mainly caused by the coarse style of painting; the scholars of the time found it difficult to reconcile this coarseness with what they thought of as the typically very meticulous and carefully finished style of Rembrandt's early works. Recent art history has, however, pointed out that even during the earliest stage of his career - the years spent painting in his native town of Leiden - Rembrandt experimented with broader and more varied brushstrokes. Like other works by the young Rembrandt, this small painting appears to be a practice piece. X-ray studies bear out this theory by showing us that the old man's head was painted on top of another head that appears in several of Rembrandt's paintings from those years. At the same time, studies of the wooden panel show that the wood can be traced back to Rembrandt in terms of both geography and time.

Both paintings and a full account of the museum's Rembrandt studies were presented at the exhibition:
Rembrandt? The Master and his Workshop at Statens Museum for Kunst
4 February - 14 May 2006

The exhibition and book were donated by A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine McKinney Møllers Fond til almene Formaal.

Past exhibitions 2006

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