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 study of an old bearded man with a sad, forlorn expression is one of a large number of rapidly executed oil sketches introduced into Rembrandt's oeuvre in the early years of the twentieth century. The painting appeared on the London art market in 1905 as a Rembrandt. A few years later a Rembrandt scholar dated it about 1645 and emphasized the painting's "broad, powerful brushwork and deep thoughtful expression which characterize [Rembrandt’s] later style." In most subsequent catalogs of Rembrandt's oeuvre, however, this painting has been doubted, rejected, or omitted entirely. The National Gallery of Art changed its attribution to "Style of Rembrandt" in 1984. X-radiographs reveal that the head is painted over another painting of a head of a man, seen in profile and wearing a hat. The head visible today was almost certainly executed on an old panel after Rembrandt's death, in emulation, or imitation, of the master's work.
This study of an old bearded man with a sad, forlorn expression was acquired as a Rembrandt by Peter A. B. Widener from the London art market in 1905. When Wilhelm Valentiner cataloged Widener’s paintings in 1913, he dated it about 1645 and emphasized the painting’s “broad, powerful brushwork and deep thoughtful expression which characterize the artist’s later style.”
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot 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), no. 32.
Wilhelm Martin, "Rembrandt Rätsel," Der Kunstwanderer 3 (September 1921): 30–34; Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt, Schilderijen (Vienna, 1935; English ed., Oxford, 1942), 11, 243, repro.
Kurt Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde (Berlin, 1966), 47, no. 243; Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 568, no. 243, repro.
Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), 1:242 (also rev. ed., Rembrandt: Life and Work [Greenwich, Conn., 1964], 371), in his concordance of paintings agrees with the conclusion reached by Bredius in Abraham Bredius, The Paintings of Rembrandt (Oxford, 1942), 11, 243, repro. (also reprinted from 1935 ed. Rembrandt, Schilderijen [Vienna, 1935], no. 243).
This painting is one of a large number of rapidly executed oil sketches that Valentiner introduced into Rembrandt’s oeuvre in the early years of the twentieth century. Most of these attributions have now been rejected. Indeed, the painting has only the vaguest resemblance to Rembrandt’s work. The figure type is uncharacteristic for Rembrandt: the anatomy of the head is not understood, and the superficial modeling of the skin and hair is foreign to his style.
A date of execution for the painting is difficult to establish. Dendrochronological examination [see
A method of dating wood by examining the annual growth rings.
Report from Dr. Josef Bauch of the Ordinariat für Holzbiologie, Universität Hamburg, November 29, 1977 (in NGA curatorial files).
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
(Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, London); sold 1905 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 7, repro.
- 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):233, no. 448.
- "P.A.B. Widener Collection, February 1st, 1908." Typescript, 2 vols., Library, National Gallery of Art, 1908: 173.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "Nieuw-ontdekte Rembrandts." Onze Kunst 16 (December (1909): 179, 180 fig. 5.
- 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. 32, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The Art of the Low Countries. Translated by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Garden City, NY, 1914: 246, no. 52.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910-1922). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: xx, 49, no. 53, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910–1920). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. 2nd ed. Berlin, 1923: xx, 49, no. 53, repro. (also 1923 ed.: xxiv, 56, no. 61, repro.).
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 96, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: no. 95, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 243, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 243, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 243, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:no. 243; 2:repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6, as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 37, repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
- Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1948: 1:242.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 37, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963: 312, repro., as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 110, as by Rembrandt.
- Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 47, no. 243.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 98, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 539, 568, no. 243.
- 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: 18, no. 7, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 288, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 334, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 336-338, repro. 337.
The support is a vertically grained oak panel composed of a single beveled board fitted with its original strips of wood to square off the beveled edges. Dendrochronology gives the panel a felling date of 1666. A small vertical check in the bottom edge has been repaired. A thin off-white ground is visible through thinly painted passages.
The X-radiographs reveal the presence of another portrait, turned 180 degrees, lying below the present portrait (fig. 1). The earlier portrait is partially visible through the sketchy unfinished beard. Raking light reveals the outlines of the image, a head with a cap, smaller in size than in the current portrait. Cross-sections show no intermediate ground layer between the two paintings.
The paint in the present portrait was applied thinly, with impasted highlights, and hair curls incised with the butt end of a brush. The background was painted first with a reserve left for the head. Paint loss is minimal: inpainting is confined to the edges and abrasion is minor. A moderately discolored varnish is present. No conservation work has been carried out since acquisition.
 Dendrochronology was performed by Dr. Josef Bauch, Universität Hamburg (see report dated November 29, 1977, in NGA Conservation department files).
 The paint and ground layers were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-sections and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (see report dated July 1991 in NGA Conservation department files). Pigments identified in the upper painting were available during the seventeenth century.
Related IconClass Terms
- old man
- stylistic and formal differentiation of art
- fame of artist