Copper in the Arts

November 2013

The J. Paul Getty Museum Acquires Rare Self-Portrait by Rembrandt

Rembrant LaughingRembrant Laughing

The J. Paul Getty Museum's newly acquired Rembrandt Laughing is on display at the Los Angeles museum, offering viewers a rare glimpse of an early self portrait of the artist.

Painted on copper, this small oil (8 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches) bears the artist’s monogram, “RHL,” which combines his name with Leiden, the city in which he was born and worked at the time. It is very well preserved and Rembrandt’s vigorous, assured technique has lost none of its immediacy.

“Painted when Rembrandt was a young, newly independent artist, possibly the third self-portrait of his career, Rembrandt Laughing exemplifies his signature spirited, confident handling of paint and natural ability to convey emotion,” explains Scott Schaefer, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “It is a measure of the artist’s consummate skill that the dynamism of his pose and the act of laughing translates into a painting of tremendous visual impact, far exceeding its modest dimensions. It is destined to become one of the Getty’s signature paintings.”

Considered the greatest painter of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt possessed a brilliant technique and unrivaled ability to capture the drama of life. His exploratory interest in the human character was expressed not only through the interpretation of diverse mythological and historical subjects, but through an exceptional number of self-portraits, a genre he transformed. Ranging from informal studies to elaborate fantasies and distinguished likenesses, Rembrandt’s self-portraits are among his most lauded works.

After centuries in private collections, this painting emerged on the market in 2007. Previously known only through print reproductions, it had been attributed to a contemporary of Rembrandt. Scholarly analysis and scientific testing, made possible once the painting entered the public sphere, led many experts, including leading members of the Rembrandt Research Project, to re-attribute the work to Rembrandt himself. It was exhibited to the public for the first time, as a Rembrandt, at the Rembrandthuis Museum in 2008. Notably, of the nearly 40 self-portraits he painted in his life, Rembrandt Laughing is the first in which he depicts himself in evocative costume.

Rembrandt Laughing will be exhibited in the East Pavilion among the Museum’s four Rembrandt paintings (An Old Man in Military Costume, 1630; The Abduction of Europa, 1632; Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel, 1633; Saint Bartholomew, 1661) and Rembrandt’s superb Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak of 1632 (on long-term loan from a private collection), and in proximity to other small-scale Dutch paintings on copper and panel.

Resources:

J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, CA, (310) 440-7300

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