Since I’ve been reading a lot about the Dutch Golden Age of painting — and sharing much of what I learn with my husband — it was no wonder he quickly called me in to the living room a few days ago to see what was on the network news. Word is that a museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania has “discovered” an original work by Rembrandt, one that was long believed to have been painted by an apprentice or student of the famed artist.
“Portrait of a Young Woman” — an oil on wood painting — was first acquired by the Allentown Art Museum in 1961. At the time, it was thought to be an original Rembrandt, but a few years later the Rembrandt Research Project — a Dutch organization formed to investigate claims — dismissed the painting, declaring it to likely be the work of someone other than Rembrant van Rijn.
One reason the work was questioned was because of the lack of visible brushstrokes. Shan Kuang, a conservator from NYU’s Institute of Fine Art now explains that in the 1920’s the trend was to create “mirrored surfaces” for works on display in museums. Thick varnish was used in an earlier restoration of this portrait, in some places actually poured on so thick that drip marks from the varnish could be seen. Over the years, Kuang says, the varnish darkened, completely hiding the brushstrokes on the painting.
Conservation efforts undertaken in 2018 — making use of sophisticated new technologies — showed the painting to be very high quality. Advanced scanning techniques have answered many questions about the painting, including those about the young woman’s dress, which art historians believed were too poorly painted to have been done by Rembrandt. The new revelations suggest that these areas were later repainted over the original work.
A number of art scholars and museum curators have looked at the painting and have come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, by Rembrandt.
There are, in fact, several “new” paintings by Rembrandt that have been discovered in recent years, including “Portrait of a Young Gentleman”, and “Let the Children Come to Me”.
Before these recent discoveries, the most recent “new” Rembrandt was found in 1974.
It fascinates me to learn about famous artists and their lives, and especially to learn about the new technologies available to researchers today that enable historians to actually “see” beneath the surface of these incredible works of art.