New Rembrandt at the Bredius Museum?

November 20 2022

Image of New Rembrandt at the Bredius Museum?

Picture: Museum Bredius

Some very interesting Rembrandt news from The Hague; scholars have decided that a Crucifixion in the Museum Bredius is indeed by Rembrandt, and not a copy as has been believed. The picture, in oil on panel, was first published by Abraham Bredius as a Rembrandt in 1931. Bredius was then the leading scholar on all things Rembrandt, and indeed most subsequent Rembrandt catalogues have maintained his numbering of Rembrandt's pictures. He accepted about 650 works as genuine Rembrandts.

Since then, the Bredius Museum (the museum held Bredius' own collection from 1990) has accepted the opinion of more recent Rembrandt scholarship that the picture was not by Rembrandt. For example, Horst Gerson, who effectively took over from Bredius as the leading Rembrandt scholar, wrote in his updated version of Bredius' catalogue in 1969 that he deemed it to be 'a crude imitation, vaguely based on Rembrandt'.

But now the Dutch art historian and writer of a new Rembrandt catalogue raisonne, Jeroen Giltaij, has decided the picture is a Rembrandt, and is quoted in The Guardian:

“I looked at this work again and again. At the brush strokes. They are brilliant,” Giltaij told Agence France-Presse. “Just a few broad brush strokes” convinced him the sketch was indeed the genuine article, he said.

The artwork was first bought by the museum’s original curator, Abraham Bredius, in 1921. He too was convinced the sketch was an original Rembrandt. But over the years, art experts dismissed it as a “crude imitation”.

Giltaij re-examined the sketch for his Big Book of Rembrandt Paintings, which features all 684 works by the Dutch master.

“When I was looking at it, I thought Bredius was right. I think this is indeed a Rembrandt,” he said.

One of the main arguments by art experts for the sketch being an imitation was the seeming lack of detail in the brush strokes.

“You have to remember, this is an oil sketch. Rembrandt is usually very precise and refined, but this is very rough,” Giltaij said. “The reason is the oil sketch is a preparatory sketch for another painting. He wants to show the composition, a rough idea of what the actual painting could look like,” he said.

The Rijksmuseum has been asked to study the findings, and have said:

 “Regarding the use of materials, the researchers at the Rijksmuseum however did not find anything to contradict an attribution to Rembrandt,”

I haven't seen the picture but for what it's worth the case certainly looks plausible to me. What I find most interesting about this story is that if the picture is once again accepted back into Rembrandt's oeuvre, it undermines a central tenet of Rembrandt scholarship over the last forty or so years; that Rembrandt didn't really use oil sketches, and that his pictures emerged more or less fully formed. I've always found this a puzzling view of how an artist like Rembrandt might have painted. But it has been used by some Rembrandt scholars, most notably the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), to downgrade a number of sketchy early works. Regular readers will know that I've always been of the view that a total of about 350 works (which is roughly the number finally accepted by the late, great Ernst van der Wetering) is significantly too low for an artist of Rembrandt's abilities and longevity. It works out as not much more than one painting every two months of his working career. Perhaps we might now see Rembrandt's oeuvre rise. Of course, if this does happen it will be controversial. But it shouldn't be any more controversial than the dramatic - and unjust - shrinking of Rembrandt's oeuvre down to about 250 works by the RRP in the 1980s. 

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