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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Anonymous Artist, Rembrandt van Rijn/Head of Saint Matthew/probably early 1660s,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/1197 (accessed December 03, 2016).

 

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Overview

After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.

This broad, impressionistic sketch of a bearded old man wearing a beret is one of four oil studies on panel that depict the same model. Traditionally, these works have been considered autograph sketches by Rembrandt in preparation for his painting Saint Matthew and the Angel of 1661, now in the Louvre, Paris. However, since the late 1960s, the attribution of these sketches to Rembrandt has been called into question. It seems probable that this Head of Saint Matthew and the other tronies depicting this figure were made by pupils of Rembrandt while the master was occupied with the Louvre painting.

Entry

This freely brushed sketch of a bearded old man wearing a beret is one of four oil studies on panel that depict the same model.[1] Traditionally these works have been considered autograph sketches that Rembrandt made in preparation for his painting Saint Matthew and the Angel, 1661, now in the Louvre, Paris [fig. 1].[2] In the last fifty years, however, only one of these sketches, in the collection of Alfred Bader, has been generally accepted as by Rembrandt.[3]

The broad, impressionistic handling of the paint in Head of Saint Matthew was considered a hallmark of Rembrandt’s late style when this sketch first entered the Rembrandt literature in the 1880s. Indeed, during the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, a large number of sketches attributed to Rembrandt’s later years were added to his oeuvre, particularly by Wilhelm von Bode and Wilhelm Valentiner. Scholars now recognize that many of these works, including this one, lack the structure of form that underlies Rembrandt’s own creations. An X-radiograph [see X-radiography] of the painting [fig. 2] confirms that the Rembrandtesque characteristics of the image derive from broad brushstrokes across the surface of the image and that the head lacks the firm modeling so typical of the master’s works.

The first scholar to reject the attribution to Rembrandt in print was Bauch in 1966.[4] Van Regteren Altena concluded that the broad handling had characteristics of nineteenth-century imitations of Rembrandt.[5] Gerson agreed that this work was “an imitation of a later period.”[7]

Dating such studies can be extremely difficult, because followers of Rembrandt from his own time through the nineteenth century have emulated his work with little variation in style. In this instance examinations of the paints and panel have not yielded information that helps provide a specific chronological framework for the painting. Although the character of the paints is consistent with seventeenth-century studio practice, similar materials are also found on later paintings. The only unusual feature for Rembrandt is the presence of verdigris under the beard, but verdigris is found in seventeenth-century paintings. Although Dendrochronology could not date the oak panel, the irregular beveling is similar to that found in seventeenth-century paintings. There thus are no technical grounds for questioning the work’s seventeenth-century origin.

Because of differences in the figure’s expression and in the character of the beret, it is unlikely that this study is a copy of the head of Saint Matthew from Saint Matthew and the Angel. It seems more probable that it and the other tronies depicting this figure were made in Rembrandt’s workshop while the master was occupied with the Louvre painting.[6] From the evidence of drawings it is known that Rembrandt, as part of his teaching process, encouraged his students to work from live models. This painting could have been such a study piece, executed by an unidentified student around 1661.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Provenance

Alfred Buckley, New Hall, England, by 1882.[1] Rodolphe Kann [1845-1905], Paris, probably after 1893 but by 1900;[2] purchased 1907 with the entire Kann collection by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[3] sold to (F. Kleinberger & Co., Paris);[4] by exchange to (Leo Nardus [1868-1955], Suresnes, France, and New York); by exchange early 1909 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania;[5] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1882
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1882, no. 99.
1969
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 9, repro.
Bibliography
1882
Royal Academy of Arts. Exhibition of works by the old masters, and by deceased masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1882: 23, no. 99.
1883
Bode, Wilhelm von. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883: 590, no. 248.
1885
Dutuit, Eugène. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt: catalogue historique et descriptif; supplément à l'Oeuvre complet de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885: 43, 64, 69, no. 418.
1893
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris, 1893: 432-433, 559.
1894
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. 2 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. New York, 1894: 2:114, 235.
1897
Bode, Wilhelm von, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. 8 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. Paris, 1897-1906: 7:15, 106, no. 522, repro., 8: 378.
1900
Bode, Wilhelm von. Gemälde-sammlung des Herrn Rudolf Kann in Paris. Vienna, 1900: vii, pl. 7.
1904
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart, 1904: 237, repro.
1906
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906: repro. 362, 405.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 6(1916):100, no. 174.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 6(1915):100, no. 174.
1907
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. New York, 1907: 362, repro.
1907
Sedelmeyer, Charles. Catalogue of Rodolphe Kann Collection. 2 vols. Paris, 1907: 1:iv, no. 73.
1908
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1908: repro. 455.
1909
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909: repro. 455.
1912
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "Nieuw Ontdekte Rembrandts, II." Onze Kunst 22 (December 1912): 182 pl. 9, 187-188.
1913
Graves, Algernon. A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813–1912. 5 vols. London, 1913-1915: 3(1914):1011, no. 99.
1913
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: intro., no. 39, repro. as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
1913
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. 2nd ed. New York, 1913: repro. 455.
1914
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The Art of the Low Countries. Translated by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Garden City, NY, 1914: 249, no. 85.
1921
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 455, repro.
1923
Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 202, no. 416A.
1923
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn.
1931
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: no. 155, repro.
1931
Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: no. 155, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 302, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 302, repro.
1936
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 302, repro.
1938
Waldman, Emil. "Die Sammlung Widener." Pantheon 22 (November 1938): 342.
1942
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:no. 302, repro.
1942
National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6, as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
1948
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 43, repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
1957
Duveen, James Henry. The Rise of the House of Duveen. New York, 1957: 234.
1959
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 42, repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963: 314, repro., as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
1964
Usarralde, Hilda. De El Greco a Tiepolo. Exh. cat. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Argentina). Buenos Aires, 1964: no. 101, repro.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 110, as by Rembrandt.
1966
Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 48, no. 302.
1966
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and Engelbert H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture: 1600–1800. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore, 1966: 78, repro.
1967
Regteren Altena, J.Q. van. "Review of Bauch 1966." Oud Holland 82 (1967): 70-71.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 98, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1969
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 230, 573, no. 302.
1969
National Gallery of Art. Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art: Commemorating the tercentenary of the artist's death. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1969: 19, no. 9, repro.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 286, repro., as by Rembrandt.
1976
Fowles, Edward. Memories of Duveen Brothers. London, 1976: 52.
1984
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and Engelbert H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture. The Pelican History of Art. Revised ed. Harmondsworth, 1984: 78, repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 334, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 333-336, color repro. 335.
1998
Fichner-Rathus, Lois. Understanding art. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1998: 94, fig. 407.
2002
Quodbach, Esmée. "The Last of the American Versailles: The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002): 71.
2007
Lopez, Jonathan. "‘Gross False Pretenses’: The Misdeeds of Art Dealer Leo Nardus." Apollo ser. 2, 166, no. 548 (December 2007): 80-81, fig. 8.
2008
De Witt, David. The Bader Collection: Dutch and Flemish paintings. Agnes Etherington Art Centre Catalogues. Kingston, Ont., 2008: 273, 274 n. 3.
Technical Summary

The support is a vertically grained, thin, oak panel beveled on the back on all sides. It is not quarter sawn, resulting in an irregular grain pattern, and contains no sapwood, precluding the dating of the panel by dendrochronology.[1] The paint was applied over a granular gray ground. Pastose paint was used in the head and thin glazes were employed in the background. Many areas were worked wet-into-wet. Analysis indicates that the pigments are consistent with those found in seventeenth-century studio practice.[2] The painting, which is in excellent condition, was treated in 1994 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting.

 

[1] Dendrochronology report by Dr. Joseph Bauch, Universität Hamburg (see report dated November 29, 1977, in NGA Conservation department files).

[2] Pigments were analyzed by the Scientific Research department using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (see reports dated June 29, 1994, and August 1, 1994, in NGA Conservation department files).

Related IconClass Terms
22C91
half-light
31A5349
moustache
31B6251
wrinkles
31D16
old man
41D221
beret
48A2
attribution
48A5
conservation of a work of art
48A91
chiaroscuro
48B11
studio
48B121
model
61B1
portraiture
61B11
tronie