Fake Rembrandt from Oxford turned out to be the original

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Rembrandt's workshop, The head of a bearded man. Around 1630

A small portrait of a tired, melancholic elderly man with a beard ended up in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as a work by Rembrandt under the bequest of one of the collectors back in 1951, but in 1981 the attribution of the work was revised and Rembrandt’s authorship was refused.

Ahn Van Camp, the curator of the Ashmolean Museum for Server European Art, said that the specialists of the Rembrandt Research Project, an organization that is the world authority on the attribution of the artist’s work saw the work in the flesh and decided that it was not a Rembrandt painting. Experts said that this was most likely work in the style of Rembrandt. Perhaps, it had been created at the end of the 17th century, which was not even during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

After this verdict, the work was removed from the permanent exhibition and was kept for a long time in the museum’s storerooms as the work of an unknown author. This continued until 2015 when Van Camp joined the museum team.

One of the first projects of the curator at the new location was the organization of an exhibition of the great Flemish, during the work on which Camp learned about the fake Rembrandt, which no one wanted to talk about. Having studied the work, the specialist came to the conclusion that stylistically, this portrait is close to many similar works of the artist, which he created in many in the 1630s, during his life in Leiden. After that, Peter Klein, a specialist in dendrochronology, joined the research team. After examining samples of the wooden panel on which the portrait was painted, Klein came to the conclusion that it comes from the same tree from which the board for two other masterworks of the artist was taken: Andromeda (circa 1630), kept in the collection of the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, and a portrait of the artist’s mother, painted by him in 1630.

So far, all research indicates that at least the wooden panel on which the portrait is painted comes from the workshop of Rembrandt. Of course, the work on attribution of the painting is not yet finished. Further research should finally confirm that the portrait was painted directly by Rembrandt’s hand.

However, the stylistic similarity with the confirmed works of the artist and the level of performing skill with which this portrait was painted is enough for the work “Head of a Bearded Man” to return from the storerooms to the museum halls on the next Wednesday, September 2, 2020.

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