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.
Rembrandt conceived this portrait of a man and another of a woman (see NGA 1942.9.68) as pendants, or companion pieces. In both, light illuminates the subjects from exactly the same angle. The sitters interact with restrained yet poignant warmth; he gestures toward her while looking at the viewer, and she glances in his direction while holding her feather fan so that it inclines toward him. The identity of the sitters is not known, but the circle of wealthy friends and acquaintances who might have ordered portraits at that period of Rembrandt’s life was rather small. The style of the sitters’ costumes is datable to the late 1650s, which is consistent with the character of Rembrandt’s painting technique.
The early history of these paintings is shrouded in mystery, but by 1803 they had entered the collection of Prince Nicolai Yusupov (1751–1831) in Saint Petersburg. The first published descriptions of the pair, in 1864, already mention their "extraordinary energy," and the paintings made a tremendous impression at the great Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam in 1898. When Nicolai’s great-great-grandson, Prince Felix Yusupov (1887–1967), escaped Russia at the start of the Revolution in 1917, he brought the family jewels and these two Rembrandt paintings with him to London. Joseph E. Widener, the future benefactor of the National Gallery of Art, purchased the pair in 1921 when the prince’s need for cash forced him to part with his family heirlooms.
The early history of Portrait of a Gentleman with a Tall Hat and Gloves and
This entry text was written for the pair of paintings
Heinrich Christoph von Reimers, St. Petersburg, am Ende seines Ersten Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 1805), 2:373.
Frederick R. Andresen, through his colleague Evgeny Maksakov, kindly provided the NGA library with a photocopy of this catalogue (Musée du Prince Youssoupoff [Saint Petersburg, 1839]). See also: Oleg Yakovlevich Neverov, Great Private Collections of Imperial Russia (New York and Saint Petersburg, 2004), 89–98.
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Die Gemäldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg nebst Bemerkungen über andere dortige Kunstsammlungen (Munich, 1864), 414: “Ein männliches und ein weibliches Bildniss, fast Kniestücke. Pendants. Von ausserordentlicher Energie. Der kühle Ton der Lichter, wie der Schatten. die sehr breite Behandlung, beweisen, dass diese Bilder der spateren Zeit angehören.” The Rembrandt paintings were not mentioned in Louis Viardot, Les musées d'Allemagne et de Russie (Paris, 1844); however, as Viardot only listed a few works, many of which were the same as those discussed by Waagen some twenty years later (see Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Die Gemäldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg nebst Bemerkungen über andere dortige Kunstsammlungen [Munich, 1864]), one wonders if he saw the total collection. According to later reports, the family had always been quite reluctant to show off their treasures, so it is possible that Viardot was not given access to them. An article on Joseph Widener’s acquisition of the paintings (American Art News 20 [December 10, 1921], 4) quoted a London Times article in which it was written that: “The grandfather of the present Prince was a man of parsimonious disposition who guarded his picture gallery from all ordinary mortals and sightseers. At a ball given in the palace to the Imperial Court, Czar Alexander III wished to see the Rembrandts. Prince Youssoupoff (sic) personally conducted the czar and two Grand Dukes to see his gallery but kept out all other guests.” Peter A. B. Widener (Joseph Widener’s son, given his grandfather’s name), Without Drums (New York, 1940), 61, writes that the czar was allowed to see the collection only after he ordered Youssoupoff to unlock his picture gallery. Did the prince fear a request by the czar to transfer some of the paintings to the imperial collection at the Hermitage?
The paintings remained secluded and unavailable to most Americans and Europeans until they were shown at the great Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam in 1898. There they made a tremendous impact.
The London Times (September 15, 1898), for example, described “the immortal, unchanging interest” of these two portraits. See Catherine B. Scallen, Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship (Amsterdam, 2004), 136, who cites the comments of the art critic Jan Veth, who considered these portraits “true touchstones for questions of authenticity, with their beautiful execution and powerful chiaroscuro.”
Roger Fry, “Review and Notices,” The Burlington Magazine 19 (September 1911): 353.
For those who had not had the opportunity to view the paintings in Amsterdam in 1898, engravings of the works in the commemorative volume of that exhibition or in Dr. Wilhelm von Bode’s monumental catalog of Rembrandt’s paintings, published in 1902, provided excellent visual images.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, “Die Rembrandt-Ausstellungen zu Amsterdam (September–October 1898) und zu London (January–March 1899),” Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 22 (1899), nos. 34–35. Wilhelm von Bode assisted by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, The Complete Work of Rembrandt, trans. Florence Simmonds, 8 vols. (Paris, 1897–1906), 7: nos. 489–490. The high quality of the reproductions in Bode’s publication was remarked upon by Roger Fry in 1921 when he had the occasion to publish photographs of the paintings in his article, “Two Rembrandt Portraits,” The Burlington Magazine 38 (May 1921): 210.
Peter A. B. Widener, Without Drums (New York, 1940), 60–64. The date of Widener’s purported trip is not known. His grandson writes that he went to Russia “around the turn of the century.” According to Dr. Ronald Moe (author of Prelude to the Revolution: The Murder of Rasputin [Chula Vista, CA, 2011]), a more probable date is 1909, the year the Kiel Canal opened, which would have provided access to Saint Petersburg for Widener’s yacht Josephine. In that year also the paintings were on public exhibition in Saint Petersburg for the first time since being lent to Amsterdam in 1898. The “Prince Yusupov” with whom the negotiations were carried out during those years was Felix, count Sumarokov-Elston (1856–1928), husband of Princess Zinaide Yusupova, the last surviving representative of the Yusupov family. He was given the right to take his wife’s name and title, but the art collection was actually hers.
Peter A. B. Widener had not as yet developed into the remarkable collector of Rembrandt paintings he was to become, but it was clear that these works made a lasting impression on him. After having been rebuffed by Yusupov, Widener turned to his London dealer, Arthur J. Sulley, to ask him to find a way to convince the prince to part with his treasures. On April 7, 1911, Sulley wrote to Widener saying that he would try to approach Yusupov in the same way that he had approached the Marquis of Lansdowne concerning Rembrandt’s The Mill: “That is to say that my friend is getting an introduction to the owner from one of his personal friends, and is trying to get him to name a price. If the owner will not name any price, I propose (if you agree) to offer him one million rubles, which is about £100,000.”
Letter in NGA curatorial files.
Letter in NGA curatorial files. Sulley may indeed have traveled to Saint Petersburg to try to arrange for the purchase prior to the start of World War I in 1914. An article in American Art News 20 (December 17, 1921), 4, says that “the late P. A. B. Widener before the war sent an emissary to Russia and arranged for their purchase, the price being $500,000. Prince Youssoupoff backed out of the deal by cable, after the emissary had returned to England.”
Although the allure of Widener’s money did not in and of itself convince Prince Yusupov to sell his paintings, these offers clearly pointed out to him the immense value collectors placed upon his two Rembrandt portraits. Thus, when the Russian Revolution forced the Prince’s family to leave Russia, his son, Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (1887–1967), took with him, among other personal possessions and family jewels, the two Rembrandt paintings.
Felix Felixovich, according to Dr. Moe, was a student at Oxford from 1909 to 1912. He was not given the title Prince Yusupov until 1914.
According to Dr. Moe and Dr. Idris R. Traylor (who, before his death, was reseraching the Yusupov family for a planned book), the Yusupov family sailed from Yalta in the Crimea on the British warship Marlborough, which had been sent by King George V to take his aunt, the Dowager Empress Maria Federovna, to London in April 1919. Yusupov and his wife disembarked in Malta and traveled via Brindisi and Paris to London. The report by Sir Francis Pridham, a British naval officer who participated in the evacuation (Close of a Dynasty [London, 1956]), includes a photograph of young Felix Yusupov aboard the Marlborough. Contemporary reports about Yusupov’s escape from Russia, however, raise the possibility that he may have dramatized the circumstances of his flight. Charles John Holmes, Self and Partners (Mostly Self): Being the Reminiscences of C. J. Holmes (New York, 1936), 376, writes, for example: “In 1919 Prince Youssoupoff suddenly appeared with his two famous Rembrandt portraits, still concealed by the ‘Modernist’ canvases under which he had contrived to bring them out of Russia. Thrilling as was his account of the death of Rasputin, the story of his own escape, in the disguise of an art student, with the family jewels swathed around his body in long, painful chains, was no less vivid. Trying indeed must the moment have been when a kommissar, much interested in the arts, took a fancy to one of the Prince’s first experiments in painting, and wanted to buy it, in ignorance of the fact that it covered a Rembrandt masterpiece.” Variants of this story appeared in news reports in 1921 (see NGA curatorial files). The artist who painted over the two Rembrandt paintings was a friend of Yusupov, Gleb W. Derujinsky, who later immigrated to the United States and became a successful sculptor. I would like to thank Andrea Derujinsky for providing me with biographical information about her grandfather and his relationship to Yusupov (personal communication, July 2013).
In the fall of 1920, Joseph E. Widener (a collector in his own right, as well as caretaker of his father’s collection) received a letter from a Mr. Harold Hartley offering him Yusupov’s paintings for £210,000. Hartley indicated that the prince preferred to sell to an “approved buyer” rather than to a dealer, and also mentioned that the “Prince considers both paintings far superior to ‘The Mill’ and of greater value.”
Letter, October 20, 1920, in NGA curatorial files.
Letter in NGA curatorial files.
Joseph Widener arrived in London during the summer of 1921 and examined the paintings in a bank vault where they were being kept as collateral for a loan to the prince. Perhaps totally in good faith, or perhaps as a way to purchase the paintings for a lower price, Widener offered to pay the prince £100,000 with the stipulation that Yusupov could repurchase them within three years at eight percent interest should his financial situation improve to the point where he could once again “keep and personally enjoy these wonderful works of art.”
Samuel N. Behrman, Duveen (New York, 1952), 18 (also 1972 ed., 16). According to Dr. Moe, Behrman’s implication that Yusupov’s reacquisition of the paintings was contingent upon a restoration of the old regime in Russia is inaccurate. A cable from Joseph Widener dated September 19, 1922, says that the purchase contract “provides that re-purchase can be made only for Prince Youssoupoffs [sic] personal enjoyment of the pictures and that I am to receive satisfactory assurances and guarantees that pictures or title to same will not pass out of his possession for ten year period.” The cable is in the Duveen Brothers records, accession number 960015, Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles: reel 383, box 528, folder 4 (see also copies in NGA curatorial files).
The story of Joseph Widener’s acquisition of these extraordinary paintings does not, however, end with the events of 1921. Shortly after Widener acquired them, the collector Calouste Gulbenkian was told by the dealer Joseph Duveen that he had “just lost the two best Rembrandts in the world to Widener. He bought them both for a hundred thousand pounds, and each of them is worth that.”
Samuel N. Behrman, Duveen (New York, 1952), 18 (also 1972 ed., 16).
Transcripts from the trial (kindly provided by Frederick Andresen) and copies of the newspaper coverage of it by the New York Times are in NGA curatorial files. See also Samuel N. Behrman, Duveen (New York, 1952), 22–24 (also 1972 ed., 20); John Walker, Self-Portrait with Donors: Confessions of an Art Collector (Boston and Toronto, 1974), 244.
Neither painting appears to be signed or dated, although Valentiner in his 1931 catalog of the Widener Collection noted that the portrait of the woman was signed, “Rembrandt f. 166’ [the last figure illegible].”
Pictures in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1931), 74–77.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910–1920), Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben, 27 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921), 484–485.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Rembrandt Paintings in America (New York, 1931), nos. 171–172. Valentiner dates them “slightly after paintings dated 1662.”
Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt, Schilderijen (Vienna, 1935), no. 327, 14 note.
Kurt Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde (Berlin, 1966), nos. 446 and 528, 23 note 446, 26 note 528; Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 255, 313, 575 note 327, 582 note 402.
One exception to the consistently late dates given the paintings since the 1930s occurred in the catalog of the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 1969. Here it is noted that neither the costumes nor the painting techniques indicate such a late date for the works.
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art (Washington, 1969), 25.
See inventory no. C1477, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The hairstyle and costume of the man are more difficult to date than are those of the woman, partly because the collar and cuffs have been altered (see Technical Summary).
Pierre Paul von Weiner et al., Les anciennes écoles de peinture dans les palais et collections privées Russes (Brussels, 1910), 8, lament the damage that had occurred to the Yusupov paintings as a result of poor restoration: “Cette collection est restée intacte, on plutôt seulement complète, car la restauration du professeur Prakhoff y causa tout récemment un dommage irréparable: un certain nombre de toiles . . . en a cruellement souffert.” Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (letter January 8, 1985, NGA curatorial files) has kindly provided information about the twentieth-century restoration: “I spoke with C. F. Louis de Wild who checked his notes. The paintings were brought to his father’s home by Duveen in 1922. His father was mortally ill at the time, and only cleaned the man, with the help of his son (Louis), but did not retouch, inpaint or complete the restoration in any way. Louis does not remember what the painting looked like at the time. The woman was not touched. What this means is that De Wild Sr. and Jr. started cleaning the man in 1922, then gave up because of personal circumstances. Neither he nor I know who did carry out the cleaning.”
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.
The billowing cuffs are more elaborate than the normal flat cuffs, but they do resemble those seen in Bartholomeus van der Helst’s Portrait of a Young Man, 1655 (Toledo Museum of Art), inventory no. 76.12; see The Toledo Museum of Art: European Paintings (Toledo, Ohio, 1976), 247, no. 101, repro.
Costume styles are usually only a rough measurement of date because old styles were frequently worn after new ones were introduced, particularly by older and more conservative people. These sitters, however, appear to be in their late thirties or early forties, and, judging from the woman’s jewelry, wealthy. It seems unlikely that they would have had themselves portrayed in outmoded fashions, which, on the basis of costume analysis, would suggest a date for these portraits in the mid-to-late 1650s.
Stylistically, such a date for these paintings is also compatible with Rembrandt’s other works. In no painting of his from the mid-1660s does one find the careful modeling of the woman’s hands and face, the suggestions of texture as seen in her features, jewelry, and lace, or the broad planar way in which forms are illuminated by the light. No hint of the palette knife is to be found in either work. Similarities of style and technique, however, do exist in paintings from the late 1650s, in particular between the woman and Rembrandt’s portrait of Catherine Hooghsaet, signed and dated 1657 (Penrhyn Castle, Wales).
Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), no. 391, repro.
The portrait of the man is more boldly executed than that of the woman in that the modeling does not have the same restrained, planar quality. Brushstrokes on the man’s face are broken and roughly juxtaposed as Rembrandt modeled his sharply illuminated features with sure strokes of varying tones of pinks and ochers. The boldness of Rembrandt’s touch originally must have been even more pronounced, for X-radiographs demonstrate that both of the man’s cuffs and hands were more abstractly rendered than they now appear. The fact that the gloves held by the gentleman in his left hand are cut at the bottom edge of the composition suggests that the paintings were once slightly larger. One could imagine that the figures were initially situated in a more spacious setting, which suggests that they have been trimmed on all sides. The dimensions of the pendant portraits in the Hoet sale of 1760 loosely correspond to the paintings’ current sizes, so any reduction in size must have occurred at an earlier date.
Gerard Hoet, Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderijen..., 2 vols. (The Hague, 1752), with supplement by Pieter Terwesten (1770) (reprint, Soest, 1976), 3:225, nos. 49 and 50, where they are described as being “hoog 39, breet 30 ½ duimen.”
The bold manner with which Portrait of a Gentleman with a Tall Hat and Gloves is executed is related to Rembrandt’s painting technique in male portraits of the late 1650s. In earlier portraits, such as Jan Six, 1654
An unusual technical feature reinforces the probability that Rembrandt executed these two portraits in the late 1650s: they were both originally painted on a herringbone-weave canvas, a support Rembrandt is not known to have used earlier in his career. The paintings were removed from these supports and transferred onto finely woven canvases. Presumably, this transfer was made in Russia in the nineteenth century.
Inscribed in Russian on the back of the Portrait of a Gentleman with a Tall Hat and Gloves is: “Painting transferred from an old canvas onto a new canvas. I. Sidorov.” Translation kindly made by Dauphine Sloan.
There seems little question that these works were conceived as companion portraits. Not only were they together in the Yusupov collection by the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the poses assumed by the figures are comparable to those in pendant paintings by other masters.
See inventory nos. 239, 240, Mauritshuis, The Hague. Discussed by Wheelock in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. et al., Anthony van Dyck (Washington, 1990), 196–200.
See inventory no. 515, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede.
See inventory no. A3064, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. For both, see Rudolf E. O. Ekkart, Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck (Haarlem, 1979), 158, no. 32, repro., 161, no. 33, repro.
The question that remains unanswered is the identity of the sitters. The circle of wealthy friends and acquaintances at that period of Rembrandt’s life who might have ordered portraits was rather small. Valentiner’s hypothesis that they represented Rembrandt’s son Titus and his wife, Magdalena van Loo, has long since been rejected. A suggestion by Dr. I. H. van Eeghen that they represent Jacob Louysz Trip (1636–1664) and his wife, Margarita Hendricksdr Trip (1637–1711), is doubtful.
I. H. van Eeghen, “De familie Trip en het Trippenhuis,” in Het Trippenhuis te Amsterdam (Amsterdam, Oxford, and New York, 1983), 71–73, 121 note 105.
Henriette Rahusen has suggested (personal communication, 2010) that the man bears great similarity to Aernout van der Mye (c. 1625–1681), the second man from the left in Rembrandt’s Syndics of the Cloth Drapers’ Guild (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on loan from the city of Amsterdam, see the entry on
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Possibly Gerard Hoet, Jr. [d. 1760], The Hague; possibly (sale, by Ottho Van Thol, Huibert Keetelaar, and Pierre Yver, The Hague, 25 August 1760, no. 49). Prince Nicolai Borisovich Yusupov [1751-1831], Saint Petersburg and Moscow, by 1803; by inheritance to his son, Prince Boris Nicolaiovich Yusupov [1794-1849], Moscow and Saint Petersburg; by inheritance to his son, Prince Nicolai Borisovich Yusupov [1827-1891], Saint Petersburg; by inheritance to his daughter, Princess Zinaida [Zenaida] Nikolaievna Yusupova [1861-1939], Saint Petersburg, Yalta, and London; sold 1921 by her son and heir, Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov [1887-1967], to Joseph E. Widener; inheritance from Estate of Peter A. B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, after purchase by funds of the Estate; gift 1942 to NGA.
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- Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 14, 24, repro.
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An inscription in Russian on the reverse of the present support fabric records the painting’s transfer in the nineteenth century. At that time, the original fabric support was removed and the painting was transferred to a fine, plain-weave fabric with a gauzelike fabric interleaf. The X-radiographs show a herringbone pattern that probably indicates the original canvas weave. Because the painting has been transferred, it is impossible to determine if the painting’s dimensions have been altered from an assessment of the support. The original, yellowish, quartz-containing ground layer was retained at the time of transfer and reinforced with an additional, thick white layer that contains zinc white, a pigment available only after 1840.
The paint is applied thinly in the dark background and costume, with glazed shadows and blended contours. Lighter areas are painted more thickly with pronounced brushmarking and low impasto in the face and collar. The X-radiographs (fig. 1) reveal that the white collar was changed somewhat during painting; it was enlarged and given a lace border. The X-radiographs also reveal vigorously underpainted hands and cuffs that differ slightly from those presently visible. The transfer procedure has flattened the impasto and brushwork.
In 1993 some overpaint was removed from the hands and cuffs of the sitter during a localized conservation treatment. The painting underwent a complete treatment in 2007 that involved removal of extensive overpaint, which had covered abrasion in the hat and small losses in the background. This overpaint was probably applied when the painting was treated in 1922 and possibly during a nineteenth-century treatment as well. During the 2007 treatment, it was determined that Rembrandt’s final paint in the sitter’s proper left hand had been damaged, partially exposing the broad brushwork and bright colors. The damages were inpainted to restore the shadowed effect of the hand.
 The inscription reads: "Painting transferred from an old canvas onto a new canvas. I. Sidorov." Translation kindly made by Dauphine Sloan.
 The ground was analyzed by Karin Groen using cross-sections and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (see Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering [Dordrecht, 2005], 666).
 A letter from Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, dated January 8, 1985, in NGA curatorial files discusses a 1922 treatment that was begun by Louis de Wild and his son, but completed by someone else. See note 25 in NGA 1942.9.68.
 The paint was analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-sections (see report dated May 29, 2007, in NGA Conservation department files).
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- Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 23, no. 446, repro.
- Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968: color repro. 158, 450, 504, no. 411.
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- Behrman, Samuel N. Duveen. 2nd ed. London, 1972: 16-22, repro.
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- Wright, Christopher. Rembrandt and His Art. London and New York, 1975: 119-122, pl. 99.
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- Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 314.
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- Savinskaya, Liubov. A Scholar's Whim: The Collection of Prince Nikolai Borisovich Yusupov. 2 vols. Exh. cat. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 2001: no. 120.
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- expressive connotations
- postures and gestures of hands and fingers
- style of hair
- expressive conotations
- fashion and clothing