Copper in the Arts

Issue #46 : February 2011

Rare Rembrandt Self-Portrait Rediscovered

Rembrandt Laughing. Oil on copper, about 1628.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669) Rembrandt Laughing. Oil on copper, about 1628. 8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in private Collection.

Photograph courtesy of Hazlitt Gooden & Fox, London

A rediscovered painting on copper by Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669), is on loan at the Toledo Museum of Art, through May 1 in Gallery 24. The artist painted the small oil-on-copper self portrait, Rembrandt Laughing, in his native city of Leiden when he was just 21 or 22 years old.
"This is one of the most exciting artistic rediscoveries in recent years," said Museum Director Brian Kennedy. "Rembrandt Laughing is one of the first and most joyful examples of the artist's autobiography in paint."
A century and a half after Rembrandt's death, the portrait was mistakenly thought to be by his older contemporary Frans Hals, and it was reproduced as Hals's work in an engraving. Some scholars of the 20th Century realized it was a case of mistaken identity-that the painting shown in the engraving was in fact a Rembrandt-but couldn't prove their case because the original was "lost."
The painting emerged and made headlines in 2007 after the English family who owned it for the past 100 years decided to sell it through a local auction house. The painting was attributed to "a follower of Rembrandt," with an estimated value of only $1,600-$2,400. However, art dealers recognized its quality and importance, and bidding went to more than a thousand times that amount to $4.5 million.
"Still, that price was a bargain," said Lawrence Nichols, TMA's William Hutton curator, European and American painting and sculpture before 1900. "The painting's estimated value today is well in excess of what it sold for at auction."
The painting has been on display in Dallas and Denver museums in the past several months to give selected American audiences a chance to view the spectacular find. Kennedy asked the current owner for the loan during a visit the two had last fall in Toledo.
Kennedy and Nichols, both passionate about Dutch painting, will be lecturing on Rembrandt Laughing, along with TMA's two other Rembrandt paintings, Young Man with Plumed Hat and Man in a Fur-Lined Coat, in coming months.

Resources:

Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St., Toledo, OH, (419) 255-8000

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