Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Rembrandt? Probably...

Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, Wife of Jacob Trip
Picture: Public Catalogue Foundation
One of the Rembrandt rooms at the National Gallery has been re-hung because the great portraits Jacob Trip and Margaretha de Geer, wife of Jacob Trip are on loan to the Frans Hals Museum. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that this smaller portrait of Margaretha de Geer (above) was listed as 'Attributed to Rembrandt'. I queried it at the information desk because I remembered it as being called simply 'Rembrandt'. I was surprised by the change, partly because I think it's by Rembrandt, and partly because the NG Director has said that he doesn't like using the term 'Attributed'.

I was impressed to get an email shortly after, giving me the full history of its labeling at the NG and sending me the entry on the picture from Art in the Making: Rembrandt. They confirmed that it was previously given to Rembrandt, and they've now updated the label to 'Probably by Rembrandt'. I think the avoidance of the term 'attributed' is silly, and I think the portrait is by Rembrandt, but on this occasion I think the new label is spot on. The NG is right to reflect scholarly dissent about the attribution, but also the balance of probability towards Rembrandt. Certain technical aspects of the picture are atypical of Rembrandt, and it rather pales beside the awesome power of the finished portrait, usually shown in the same room. But no other artist has come so close to capturing Rembrandt's late manner, and this is a very accomplished picture. The NG website still lists it as 'Attributed to Rembrandt'.

The portraits currently out on loan usually hang on a narrow wall at the end of a long room, which is exactly the wrong place for them. You need to be able to see them from either side to appreciate the brilliance of Rembrandt's artistry. He makes them appear to face towards you from either side, giving a different aspect. They're not meant to be seen only face-on. When they come home I hope they'll be hung on the adjacent wall where pictures by Jacob van Ruisdael and Simon de Vlieger currently hang.

When they were looking for the picture at the information desk they accidentally gave me a sneak preview of future loans, so I got advance notice of their Late Rembrandt exhibition and I know some of the pictures they're getting ... but I'm not going to tell.

Incidentally when I was looking for an image for the blog I came across this Mythological Scene on the Public Catalogue Foundation website. It's actually a copy of Rembrandt's Diana Bathing with Actaeon and Callisto


  1. Rembrandt owned quit a wide range of various styles, very impressive to me.

  2. I shall have to pop along and have a look before the pair of portraits come back! Exciting news about Late Rembrandt, too... Always good to have new things to look forward to.

  3. Rembrandt only accepted pupils who already had established painting careers of their own. They came to him to learn to paint in his style. These students were excellent; it would not surprise me if Margaretha was painted by one of them. The question is: does it matter? Isn't a good painting a good painting regardless of who painted it? I remember people in tears when the "Man with the Golden Helmet" was demoted. I've always wondered why.

  4. MaaikeJJ, I agree that we should appreciate a painting's inherent quality, but I think questions of authorship are also important - but that's a point that merits a fuller response in a subsequent post!
    Many of Rembrandt's students joined his studio in their mid-teens, and we don't know that all had prior training - there's certainly quite a range of quality and of technique. The Margeretha is surely related to the large version, but it seems strange that a student would have diverged so far from the larger main version. It's been regarded either as a study made by Rembrandt or a later pastiche, rather than a studio work.

    1. Thanks, looking forward to that subsequent post! I have always wondered why studio participation seems to be universally accepted for e.g. Van Dyck and Rubens, but not for Rembrandt.
      Have you ever been to the Rembrandt House here in Amsterdam? They have interesting studio works in their collection.

  5. Yes, but only for exhibitions. I last saw the excellent Lievens show there, but I haven't seen their own collection yet.

    Rubens ran a large studio on professional lines for most of his life, whereas Rembrandt downsized after his bankruptcy. Less seems to be known about his later pupils. Most notable was Aert de Gelder, and 'The Master of the Rihel Horse' was identified by Joshua Bruyn. There's a mass of scholarship on Rembrandt's studio that I'm not fully familiar with, but it seems that pictures from Rembrandt's studio were substantially by single artists - either Rembrandt or a single student - whereas Rubens' studio collaborated on a single picture, with specialists in animals and still life. The Rihel horse, currently being cleaned at the National Gallery, is an unusual case where different hands can be distinguished.

  6. Perhaps you saw the excellent exhibition "Rembrandt, search of a genius" at the Rembrandt House in 2006? A fascinating interpretation of the workings of the studio(I went eight times).

    I'm looking forward to publications on recent Rihel research results re the current restoration (which seems to be ongoing for years), also because the portrait of a man, as good as finished, was discovered underneath the equestrian portrait. Another "hidden painting".

    I agree that the distinction between Rubens and collaborators is more obvious in most paintings, though perhaps less so in Van Dyck's case.

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