The Mauritshuis has one of the most important collections of Rembrandt paintings in the world. 2019 will be a Rembrandt Year, and to celebrate that the museum will exhibit all 18 paintings that were once acquired as ‘Rembrandts’. Eleven of these are still considered as authentic works by Rembrandt, or have been reattributed to him. These include renowned works like The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Saul and David and Rembrandt’s final Self-portrait of 1669. The presentation also includes five paintings that are no longer attributed to the master himself, and two paintings with a ‘question mark’ after their authorship.
The 18 paintings in the Mauritshuis will be the starting point for an exhibition that shows how our perception of Rembrandt has changed continually over time. Near the end of his life, Rembrandt’s style of painting fell somewhat out of fashion. In the 18th century, his works became popular again among royal collectors like the Stadtholder Prince William V. Over the course of the 19th century, he was gradually embraced as a national hero. Around 1900, Rembrandt’s work was seen as a precursor of Impressionism. This also led to renewed appreciation for his late work, which is characterised by broad brushstrokes. At this time people also became interested in the ‘man’ behind the painter. For example, Rembrandt’s ‘tronies’ (faces) of elderly women and men were optimistically seen as portraits of his family members. In the 20th century, experts began to establish which works could or should no longer be attributed to Rembrandt. Today we increasingly rely on advanced technological resources – not only to answer the question ‘Is it a real Rembrandt?’, but also to find out more about the master’s ingenious painting techniques.
The collection of the Mauritshuis includes eleven paintings that are undisputed works by the master himself. They include some of his most famous works as well as favourites, such as the last self-portrait (1669), The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), Portrait of an Elderly Man (1667) and Homer (1663). The story of Saul and David (ca 1651-54/1655-58) is one of ups and downs. The painting was long one of the most renowned 'Rembrandts', until 1969, when its attribution to Rembrandt was rejected. A seven-year research and conservation project resulted in the work returning to the pantheon of 'real 'Rembrandts' again in 2015. Slightly less well-known, but certainly by his hand, are paintings such as The Laughing Man (ca 1629-1630), Andromeda (ca 1630), Susanna (1636), 'Tronie' of a Man with a Feathered Beret (ca 1635-1640) and Two Moors (1661). The Mauritshuis has the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the Netherlands outside of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Two paintings come into the collection when Abraham Bredius was director (1889-1909) that can still not be attributed to Rembrandt with certainty. These are two studies of old men who were thought to be Rembrandt's father and brother in the past. The ‘Tronie' of a Man of c. 1630-31 was thought to be Rembrandt's father, Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn, as the portrait shows similarities with his other portraits. The Study of an Old Man of 1650 has long been regarded as a portrait of Rembrandt's brother, Adriaen van Rijn. Now not only the attributions, but the identifications of the sitters are uncertain. Who are they? And are they by Rembrandt? The experts can't agree.
Apprentice, copy, forgery (5)
Five paintings entered the Mauritshuis collection as Rembrandts, but are no longer considered to be by the master. The status of the extraordinary self-portrait of a young Rembrandt, acquired by Stadtholder Prince William V in the 18th century as a masterpiece by Rembrandt, changed as recently as 1999, when it was shown to be a studio copy of another self-portrait in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. In 1890, director Bredius acquired Study of an Old Woman (also known as Rembrandt's Mother, ca 1630-35) for the museum. He was convinced it was by the painter himself, but art historians now think that it is a copy of a lost original. Although the Praying Woman was presented as an authentic Rembrandt at an exhibition in celebration of Queen Wilhelmina's coronation in 1898, this small painting was de-attributed soon thereafter. And when Bredius acquired Travellers at Rest in 1894, it was signed Rembrandt.f., but that signature proved to be false, and it is now regarded as by one of Rembrandt's imitators. Finally, Minerva (ca 1635-40), which Bredius acquired in London in 1899, was been doubted by experts, and was probably painted by one of Rembrandt's apprentices.
350 years of fascinating history
For the first time in its history, the Mauritshuis will be presenting its entire collection of ‘Rembrandts’ in a single exhibition. Each painting is accompanied by fascinating stories about how it entered the the museum’s collection. Who discovered the painting? Was it acquired or donated? How did people view it over the centuries? How was it researched? Why did some works fall off their ‘Rembrandt pedestal’ at some point? Visitors will be encouraged to look closely and compare. Can you actually tell the difference between a ‘Rembrandt’ and a ‘non-Rembrandt’? And what’s the story with the two portraits whose authenticity has been cast in doubt? Eighteen paintings, 350 years of fascinating (art)history.
Rembrandt and the Mauritshuis
31 January-15 September 2019