“Fake” painting may actually be a genuine work by Rembrandt

Hyperaxion Sep 2, 2020

A new analysis of the “Head of a Bearded Man” revealed it was painted between 1620 and 1630, in the artist’s workshop.

A painting long rejected by experts for being considered a forgery may actually be a genuine work by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669).

The discovery was made thanks to a new analysis of the painting “Head of a Bearded Man”.

"Fake" painting may actually be a genuine work by Rembrandt
On the left, Head of a Bearded Man, on the right, infrared analysis that indicates that touches of paint were later added to the work. (Credit: Ashmolean Museum / University of Oxford).

In 1951, the Ashmolean museum in England received the painting from a British art collector and dealer. On the back of the painting, which is the size of a postcard, a printed label, cut out from the catalog from a Paris auction held on February 25, 1777, was stuck.

In the early 1980s, the painting was evaluated by the Rembrandt Research Project, the main authority in the study of the painter’s work, but it was considered a forgery.

At the time, experts said they believed it was just one of a series of copies made from a lost original.

“They saw it in the flesh and decided it wasn’t a Rembrandt painting,” said An Van Camp, curator of the Ashmolean Museum. “They said it might be an imitator painting in the style of Rembrandt and is possibly made before the end of the 17th century, so not even in Rembrandt’s lifetime.”

The “copy” remained forgotten in the Ashmolean basement until recently, when a Rembrandt exhibition began to be organized at the museum and the curators decided to reevaluate it.

The painting was analyzed by dendrochronologist Peter Klein, a professional who studies the annual rings in trees to determine their age.

The printed label on the back of the painting.
The printed label on the back of the painting. (Credit: Ashmolean Museum / University of Oxford).

“The Ashmolean’s Head of a Bearded Man was painted on a panel which came from an oak tree in the Baltic region, felled between 1618 and 1628, and used in two known works by Rembrandt and Lievens,” Klein said. “We can firmly date the portrait to 1620-30.”

Experts have not yet confirmed that the painting is, in fact, genuine, but the analysis guarantees that it came from the painter’s workshop.

“As a curator it is incredibly exciting to find out that a previously unidentified painting can be placed in the workshop of one of the most famous artists of all times,” Van Camp said.

The analysis also revealed evidence of touches of paint that were added later in the work, which, according to restorer Jevon Thistlewood, significantly undermined the subtle illusion of depth and movement.

“When the exhibition closes,” he said, “we will begin the process of restoring the painting and we can’t wait to see what we find.”

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