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Innocent copy or intentional forgery? Research fake Rembrandt at the Museum of Fine Arts Fralin


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For many years, in the attic of Old Cabell Hall, and then in the new art storehouse of the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, one picture was kept. It depicted a young man in a velvet beret, and on a tiny plaque on the frame of the work was only one word - «Rembrandt.»

Jean Lancaster.
Photo: Sanjay Suchak, University of Virginia

Jean Lancaster, manager of the museum’s collection, reopened this picture in 2016, when she began to prepare for the new exhibition «Collect, take care, save, supervise: the life of an art object» that opened in the museum last Friday. Having examined the work from all sides, she considered that the wooden panel on which it was written looks old, perhaps old enough, to belong to a Dutch master of the XVII century, Rembrandt van Rijn. However, Lancaster was skeptical of the picture itself.

«I thought it probably was not Rembrandt, because the picture was kept in the storages for so long and was never exhibited,» she said.

Nevertheless, she was curious to know when and why the canvas was attributed to Rembrandt, and Lancaster began to explore its origins. What she eventually found, not only did not disclose this mystery, but added two new ones to her.

Part of the history of the picture is quite simple. Charlottesville’s lawyer and art collector George Gilmer (George Gilmer) donated work in 1961, along with a group of other European paintings, which he presented to the university in the 1950s and 1960s. Gilmer himself probably bought it from his friend, the landowner of the county of Albemarle and the Dutch art dealer Baron John von Liedersdorf. In a letter to the director of the museum, attached to a generous gift, the collector openly admitted that some of the canvases, including the alleged Rembrandt, arouse his suspicions.

For the initial analysis of the authenticity of the picture took an expert from the University of Virginia Larry Goedde (Larry Goedde) and chief specialist Fine Art Conservation Virginia Scott Nolli (Scott Nolley).

«Looking at the picture, it was difficult for me to believe that it really refers to the XVII century,» said Haged. «Rembrandt used a much more complex and diverse technique and palette to depict, for example, wrinkles around the eyes or the white of the eye itself. It’s clearly not his hand. «

Left - Rembrandt, «Man with notes», on the right - a painting found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Fralin attributed to Rembrandt.
Images from the National Gallery of Art, The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA

Nolly agreed with him.

«Immediately I was alerted by the drawing and modeling of the portrait image, given that the picture was attributed to Rembrandt,» he said. - «Coloring the intended image became characteristic of the portrait of the early twentieth century. The picture lacked the ingenuity, thought out imaginative and technical aplomb, which distinguish the works of the famous master. «

After this conclusion, there were 3 possible options: inept repainting and restoration work could hide the picture of the XVII century so much that it became unrecognizable; the picture could be a harmless copy of Rembrandt’s work intended for decorative use; intentional forgery, designed to deceive collectors and museums.

Further tests added another question to the puzzle. A study using longwave ultraviolet illumination, a technique used to visualize layers that were hidden when painting or retouched pictures, showed a dense layer of lacquer that excluded the possibility of seeing any signs of previous restorations. Such a varnish is sometimes used by falsifiers to hide the traces of their work.

Then Nolly and Lancaster decided to try to explore the picture with the help of X-rays. And were amazed by what appeared on the screen. Under the portrait, another person was hidden and now the museum has two mysterious pictures instead of one. X-ray showed an image of an elderly man dressed in something resembling a military uniform. The experts dated the hidden portrait in about 1700 and assumed that it belonged to a brush of an unknown artist and was simply left for later use of the panel on which it was written.

X-ray image revealed the presence of a second portrait under the picture attributed to Rembrandt. Image courtesy of the UVA Imaging Center

The research team decided that the work can become a good teaching aid if you open a part of the old image to show students how and by what means it is possible to track the history of the creation and restoration of a work of art.

For this purpose, it was decided to remove the top coat of paint from part of the work to expose an earlier portrait. However, in the process it turned out that the pictures were in fact not 2, but 3. Over the original portrait, the academic landscape was painted, and only then was the picture given out for Rembrandt’s work. Specialists dated the landscape around the 18th-19th centuries.

The horizontal arrangement of the canvas helps to better see the outline of the landscape under two layers of paint and varnish - the clouds on the right, the brick building on the left. Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications

When Nollie used x-ray fluorescence to identify the elements used in coloring pigments, he discovered that the uppermost picture contained titanium white, which began to be used in paints only in the twentieth century. The varnish covering the painting also contained titanium and other modern pigments.

Thus, the portrait of a young man in a velvet beret could not belong to either Rembrandt’s brush or the brush of any of his pupils. Most likely it was a copy or a fake.

Copies of the famous paintings were very common and absolutely legal in the XVIII - XIX centuries, as the photo had not yet been invented. So, in 1968, a group of experts whose goal was to determine the authenticity of all the famous paintings of the famous Dutchman, discovered that many canvases that were considered possible fakes were actually innocent copies or works in the Rembrandt style created by his disciples and followers. However, Gedda believes that this picture is not just a copy.

«I think it’s a fake,» he said, referring to the awkward imitation of Rembrandt’s style, the deceptive use of the old frame, and the presence of the pigments of the twentieth-century paint. «Weighing all this, the canvas was clearly meant for deception.»

Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications

Now the picture is a textbook for students, helping them understand the style of the true Rembrandt, as well as see the technique of falsification of works of art.

Original article: The Rembrandt That Was not: Mysterious Painting Sparks Research Quest


1 04.04.2017 • (Гость)

Может это очередной пиар, навеянный фильмом "Инкогнито" 1997 года Тогда в нем была полностью сделана версия портрета Рембрандта, чтобы запутать искусствоведов. В результате драма, триллер. Все таки Рембрандт Надо быть осторожнее....

2 20.04.2017 • Лариса Давыдова (Гость)

отличная детективная история!

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