With a slight tilt of his head, Peter Paul Rubens looks out at the viewer, his gaze warm yet penetrating. The image is surprisingly intimate. Rubens, a diplomat and court painter to the regents of the Southern Netherlands, Albert and Isabel, is here shown without the exquisite attire of his gentlemanly status. Instead, he wears a simple fur cloak over a black jacket and white shirt with his hair and beard curly and unkempt. Were this a more formal portrait, he would be wearing the gold chain he received when he was appointed court painter as well as the large-brimmed hat he often donned in self-portraits to hide his baldness. The remarkable informality suggests that a close associate of the master, probably a member of his workshop, executed the Gallery's painting.
This attribution is supported by technical and stylistic evidence. Analysis of the ground and imprimatura layer reveals a manner of preparation consistent with that of Rubens and his workshop. Technical examination of the tree rings in the panel further indicates that it was available for use around 1620, a date that accords well with Rubens's apparent age, 43. However, certain weaknesses in the modeling of the ears and lips, which lack real form and structure, and the surprisingly coarse brushstrokes found in the hair and fur cloak have made it difficult to identify a specific hand, but clearly not the hand of the master himself.
S. Robinson, Esq., London. art market, London; private collection, United States; purchased 1926 by (P. Jackson Higgs, New York); sold 1927 to William R. Timken [1866-1949], New York; by inheritance to his widow, Lillian Guyer Timken [1881-1959], New York; bequest 1960 to NGA.
- Exhibition Commemorating the 350th Anniversary of Peter Paul Rubens, P. Jackson Higgs Gallery, New York, 1927, unnumbered catalogue, as Portrait of the Artist by Rubens.
- Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1936, no. 23, as Self-Portrait by Rubens.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 50, fig. 5.
- Rubens: Inspired by Italy and Established in Antwerp, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo; Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art; Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, 2013, no. 45, repro.
- From Rubens to the Grand Tour, Academy Art Museum, Easton, Maryland, 2015, unnumbered catalogue, fig. IV.
- Washburn-Freund, Frank E. "A Self-Portrait of Peter Paul Rubens." International Studio 84 (August 1926): 25, cover repro., as by Rubens.
- Washburn-Freund, Frank E. "An Unknown Self-Portrait by Rubens." Art in America 16, no. 1 (December 1927): 3-11, fig. 1, as by Rubens.
- Evers, Hans Gerhard. Rubens und sein Werk. Brussels, 1944: 332, 336, as by Rubens.
- Goris, Jan-Albert and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947: 46, no. A 15, as not by Rubens.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 119, as School of Rubens.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 106, repro., as School of Rubens.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 316, repro., as School of Rubens.
- Daugherty, Frances Perry. "The Self-Portraits of Peter Paul Rubens: Some Problems in Iconography." Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1976: 67-69, 78, 80, 337-339, no. 11-9, repro., as School of Rubens.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 363, repro.
- Lurie, Doron J. Van Dyke and His Age. Exh. cat. Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Tel Aviv, 1995: 88, as by Rubens.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 214-218, color repro.