An oil sketch that has long been dismissed as a “crude imitation” of Rembrandt’s work has now been revealed to be the real deal.
The collector and curator Abraham Bredius acquired the Raising of the Cross, painted sometime in the 1640s, for Museum Bredius in the Hague in 1921. He believed it to be a genuine work by the 17th-century Dutch artist.
Soon after, it was reattributed to one of his followers, who would presumably have been painting after a finished version of the same composition made by Rembrandt in 1633 and currently held by the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
The sketch’s surprising new reappraisal was initiated about a year ago by Joren Giltaij, former chief curator at Boijmans Van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam, who was carrying out research for a forthcoming monograph on Rembrandt.
“From the start, I was certain that this sketch must be a Rembrandt,” he told Reuters. “This sketch is so splendidly painted, it just had to be.”
His admiration went against the feeling of many previous experts who had found the artist’s brushwork to be too amateurish and naive.
“You have to remember, this is an oil sketch,” Giltaij told Agence France-Presse. “Rembrandt is usually very precise and refined, but this is very rough. The reason is the oil sketch is a preparatory sketch for another painting. He wants to show the composition, a rough idea of what the actual painting could look like.”
He brought the sketch to the attention of other experts, such as Johanneke Verhave, who was equally impressed by the quality of brushwork and has since worked on its restoration.
Subjecting it to x-ray and infrared reflectography scans, she was able to get a closer look in order to confirm whether the technique matched that of the Old Master.
“The research shows that the sketch has several changes made by the artist himself while painting, meaning that its composition was a creative process,” she told Agence France-Presse. “This means the painter was changing his mind while he was working. He was clearly not copying another painting.”
The work was further analyzed by restorers from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, who backed up the authentication.
“The discovery was a pleasant surprise,” a spokesperson for Museum Bredius, Boris de Munnick, told Reuters. “We already had one artwork of Rembrandt, and now we suddenly have two.”