Rembrandt Van Rijn Self Portrait 1658 Analysis Essay

New York’s august Frick Collection could never be accused of pandering to the masses. But the enthusiastic public response to two recent Rembrandt shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which together attracted well over a half-million visitors, cannot have been lost on the organizers of “Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections.”

This exhilarating new show presents more than sixty drawings and prints from the Paris foundation established in 1947 by the renowned Dutch connoisseur and scholar Frits Lugt (1884–1970) and Jacoba Klever, his heiress wife, to preserve some 37,000 works on paper he had amassed since his teens, and exhibits them alongside the Frick’s own Rembrandt paintings and prints. In the intimate (if imposing) ambience of Henry Clay Frick’s former home, one feels the embracing personality of this most humane of Old Masters.

Possessing neither the Met’s deep reserves nor space for large-scale surveys, the Frick has devised resourceful changing-exhibition strategies over the past decade. It has borrowed small groupings of notable works from institutions undergoing renovation or expansion—including Ohio’s Cleveland and Toledo museums, Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum, and London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery— as well as major paintings, in solo, from European collections, including Raphael’s La Fornarina, Parmigianino’s Antea, and Drouais’s Madame de Pompadour.

These tightly focused displays have proved how much can be gained from looking at a limited number of objects in uncrowded, unhurried circumstances that enable the visual equivalent of a literary close reading. This luxury, nearly lost in the scrum of today’s hectic museum experience, seems no less extraordinary than the treasures on view here.

The two stars of this show—Rembrandt’s oil-on-canvas Self-Portrait (1658) and his wash-drawing Interior with Saskia in Bed (c. 1640–1642)—are antithetical in size and medium but alike in their demonstration of his Shakespearean insight into the human condition. Both pieces address their subjects with an astonishing directness and empathy that make the four centuries since their creation seem like the passing of an hour.

For this occasion the museum’s Oval Room has been rehung with five Frick paintings: two bought as Rembrandts but later reattributed to lesser contemporaries, and three undisputed works by the master. His Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts (1631), a vivid likeness of an Amsterdam fur merchant, epitomizes the artist’s mirror-smooth, minutely detailed early manner. Conversely, The Polish Rider (c. 1655)—a dashing equestrian tableau of an unidentified young bravo, its authorship once questioned but now firmly ascribed to Rembrandt—exemplifies his freer late style, with its audacious application of pigment in thick, almost expressionistic slabs and slashes.

Presiding over them all is the magisterial Self-Portrait done when the artist was fifty-two. This largest of his more than fifty paintings of himself, it was recently cleaned by Met conservator Dorothy Mahon, and it has never looked fresher or warmer, with a new ruddy flush in the sitter’s cheeks and more sparkle in his anachronistic early-sixteenth-century costume.

As the Frick’s chief curator, Colin B. Bailey, notes in the engrossing exhibition catalog, it is incorrect to interpret Rembrandt’s self-portraits as exercises in psychological self-examination. Rather, Bailey writes, they were “made for art lovers who wished to own examples of his work in an immediately recognizable style.” (One thinks of Chuck Close’s recent work, which on occasion has seemed to include more self-portraits than his earlier output, perhaps because collectors prefer them to his depictions of less-famous artist friends.)

A small room off the entry hall contains ten Rembrandt prints owned by the Frick. These impressions are impeccable, especially Landscape with Three Trees (1643), so precisely toned that one can spot an amorous couple cavorting in the thick bushes, a delightful detail often obscured in inferior, over-inked printings.

Eleven Rembrandt prints acquired by Lugt (whose exhaustive codex of auction catalogs from 1600 to 1925 makes his “Lugt numbers” as essential to the art trade as Köchel listings are to Mozart experts) are among the works displayed in two basement-level galleries, tactfully divided with drawings by his pupils and followers in one room and the master’s sketches in the other. This was wise, for despite there being some very fine sheets by Philips Koninck, Samuel van Hoogstraten, and Rembrandt’s own teacher, Pieter Lastman, among others, it is best to keep them at a safe remove from the virtuoso works of one of the consummate draftsmen of all time.

Lugt’s exceptional Rembrandt drawings range from Biblical subjects to captivating evocations of early childhood. But most memorable is Interior with Saskia in Bed, placed on a freestanding partition all by itself as befits one of Rembrandt’s supreme achievements. This domestic image is as profoundly moving in its Dutch burgherlijk way as Velázquez’s Las Meninas is in its Habsburg courtly setting.

Almost more a painting than a drawing, this subtly veiled layering of brown ink, brown and gray washes, with touches of red and black chalk, measures less than six by seven inches. It shows the artist’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, then in her late twenties, lying in a curtained sleeping-niche after the birth of one of their children—perhaps Titus, who alone among their four offspring reached adulthood. While the recovering mother reclines in the shadows, a nurse, bathed in daylight, sits at her feet and passes the time making lace.

No more than two years after Rembrandt captured this scene Saskia died, probably of tuberculosis. Well-versed in the Classical tradition, he may well have had his wife’s approaching demise in mind when he juxtaposed her recumbent form with that of the older seated figure. As noted in the catalog for the Rijksmuseum’s 1969 retrospective on the three-hundredth anniversary of Rembrandt’s death, this preoccupied attendant “strengthens the feeling of an inevitable calamity, as if she was one of a group of Fates slowly coming to the end of Saskia’s thread of life”—like the Parcae of Roman mythology and the Norns of Nordic legend, who literally spun out human destinies with the utter indifference of Nature itself.

“Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections,” is at the Frick Collection through May 15.

This picture bears an autograph signature and date of 1660. In the summer of that year, the artist turned fifty-four years old. The painting is in good condition, especially in the face, which reveals remarkable quality and candor. Originally, the bust and hat must have imparted a stronger sense of volume, consistent with that still found in the head.

Rembrandt painted the hat over a smaller cap. The flat impression now made by the hat is not, however, the consequence of that repainting (which occurred at an early moment in the course of work) but of natural darkening in the area. Some indications of folds and other modeling in the hat are discernible in autoradiographs. In the coat or gown, the gray ground shows through in areas and there are signs of heavy overcleaning in the brown paint layer. Thus, what might be taken as a very sketchy handling of the bust is misleading. While the painter's work clothes were indeed broadly brushed, with many strokes of color suggesting local highlights, the bust as a whole would have appeared well-rounded, with a consistent fall of light from the upper left, lending substance to the loose folds descending from the shoulders. The fullness of the material suggests a long gown, worn over a doublet with a turned-up collar and a red waistcoat.

Of the approximately forty painted self-portraits by Rembrandt known today, the three-quarter-length standing self-portrait in Vienna, dating from eight years earlier, could be considered the first in which he presents himself in work clothes and, at the same time, with a forthright and confident expression that evokes no other role than that of an artist in his studio. Variations on this theme followed during the 1650s, with the most analogous to this work being the so-called Small Self-portrait of the mid- to late 1650s in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which is probably cut down; the self-portrait of 165[9?] in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; the self-portrait dated 1659 in the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and, despite its more inclusive composition, the Self-portrait at the Easel, dated 1660, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]

Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): Rembrandt / f.1660

duc de Valentinois, Paris; Admiral William Waldegrave, 1st Baron Radstock, London and Mayfield (until d. 1825; his estate sale, Christie's, London, May 13, 1826, no. 31, for £299.5 to Baring); Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, London (1826–d. 1848); the Barons Ashburton, London (1848–89); Francis Denzil Edward Baring, 5th Baron Ashburton, London (1889–1907; sold to Sulley?); [Sulley and Co., London]; [Sedelmeyer, Paris, until 1909; sold to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (1909–d. 1913)

London. British Institution. June 1829, no. 10 (lent by Alexander Baring).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1890, no. 145 (lent by Lord Ashburton).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Art of Rembrandt," January 21–?, 1942, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt," 1952, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Portrait of the Artist," January 18–March 7, 1972, no. 8.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 10, 1995–January 7, 1996, no. 15.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.


John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 7, London, 1836, p. 86, no. 210, as engraved by Schmidt; gives provenance information.

G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Works of Art and Artists in England. London, 1838, vol. 2, p. 273.

G[ustav]. F[riedrich]. Waagen. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris. Vol. 2, Kunstwerke und Künstler in England. Berlin, 1838, p. 86.

"Visits to Private Galleries." Art-Union 9 (April 1, 1847), pp. 122–23.

[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 103, no. 2.

Wilhelm [von] Bode. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883, pp. 543, 585, no. 189.

Eugène Dutuit. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885, pp. 42, 61, 70, no. 168.

Alfred von Wurzbach. Rembrandt-galerie. Stuttgart, 1886, text vol., p. 56, no. 145.

Émile Michel. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. English ed. New York, 1894, vol. 2, p. 234, erroneously dates it about 1658.

Malcolm Bell. Rembrandt van Rijn and His Work. London, 1899, pp. 82, 143, erroneously as unsigned and undated.

Wilhelm [von] Bode with the assistance of C. Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. Vol. 6, Paris, 1901, p. 13, no. 429, pl. 429, calls it "Bust of Rembrandt in a Greenish Coat" in text and "Rembrandt in a Brown Coat" in catalogue entry.

Émile Michel. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. [3rd ed.]. London, 1903, pp. 337–38, 431.

E. W. Moes. Iconographia Batava: Beredeneerde Lijst van Geschilderde en Gebeeldhouwde Portretten van Noord-Nederlanders in Vorige Eeuwen. Vol. 2, Amsterdam, 1905, p. 315, no. 6693-61.

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906, ill. p. 338.

Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Ed. W. R. Valentiner. 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1909, p. 562, ill. p. 411, as possibly a pendant to the portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels (now MMA 26.101.9).

Illustrated Catalogue of the Eleventh Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters . . . Paris, 1911, p. 30, no. 24, ill.

Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. New York, 1914, pp. 26–27, no. 17.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "The Rembrandts of the Altman Collection: I." Art in America 2 (August 1914), p. 361.

C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 6, London, 1916, p. 277, no. 562.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Rembrandt wiedergefundene Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1921, p. 126.

François Monod. "La Galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (November 1923), p. 306.

D. S. Meldrum. Rembrandt's Paintings. London, 1923, p. 199, pl. CCCXLII.

Alan Burroughs. "Rembrandts in the Metropolitan Museum." The Arts 4 (November 1923), pp. 270–72, ill.

Gustav Glück. "Rembrandts Selbstbildnis aus dem Jahre 1652." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 2 (1928), p. 328.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931, unpaginated, no. 145, pl. 145.

Alan Burroughs. "New Illustrations of Rembrandt's Style." Burlington Magazine 59 (July 1931), p. 10, pl. II-A, notes changes Rembrandt made to the composition.

A[braham]. Bredius. Rembrandt Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, p. 4, no. 54, pl. 54.

Otto Benesch. Rembrandt, Werk und Forschung. Vienna, 1935, p. 65.

Alan Burroughs. Art Criticism from a Laboratory. Boston, 1938, p. 155.

William M. Ivins Jr. "The Art of Rembrandt." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 37 (January 1942), p. 3, ill. on cover.

Introduction by William M. Ivins Jr. The Unseen Rembrandt. New York, 1942, pls. 19–20 (overall and detail).

Julius S. Held. "Rembrandt: The Self-Education of an Artist." Art News 40 (February 1–14, 1942), p. 28, ill. p. 14 (detail).

Wilhelm Pinder. Rembrandts Selbstbildnisse. Königstein, [1943], pp. 98, 100, 102, ill.

Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Re-Installs Its Treasures in Attractive Settings." Art Digest 18 (June 1, 1944), p. 5.

Josephine L. Allen. "The Museum's Rembrandts." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (November 1945), p. 73, ill. p. 76.

Theodore Rousseau Jr. "Rembrandt." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 11 (November 1952), p. 86, ill. p. 83, as "in the current Rembrandt exhibition".

D[irk]. Bax. Hollandse en Vlaamse Schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika. Amsterdam, 1952, p. 22, mentions a copy after this picture in the Phillimore Museum [Gedenkmuseum Philmore Ives?] in Stellenbosch, South Africa (present whereabouts unknown).

Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 3, ill. p. 32.

Jakob Rosenberg. Rembrandt: Life & Work. rev. ed. London, 1964, p. 98.

Kurt Bauch. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, p. 17, pl. 332.

Fritz Erpel. Die Selbstbildnisse Rembrandts. Vienna, 1967, pp. 51, 186, no. 99, pl. 59.

Horst Gerson. Rembrandt Paintings. Ed. Gary Schwartz. Amsterdam, 1968, p. 503, no. 381, ill. p. 435.

Julius S. Held. Rembrandt's "Aristotle" and other Rembrandt Studies. Princeton, 1969, p. 96, fig. 7.

Paolo Lecaldano inL'opera pittorica completa di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969, pp. 119–20, no. 381, ill.

Horst Gerson, ed. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings.. By A[braham]. Bredius. 3rd ed. London, 1969, p. 551, no. 54, ill. p. 50.

Julius S. Held and Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., [1972], p. 268, colorpl. 42.

C. M. Kauffmann. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings. London, 1973, vol. 1, p. 236, under no. 293, publishes a nineteenth-century copy.

Enrique Valdivieso. Pintura holandesa del siglo XVII en España. Valladolid, 1973, p. 354.

A. B. de Vries et al. Rembrandt in the Mauritshuis. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands, 1978, p. 186.

Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen. The Rembrandt Documents. New York, 1979, p. 454.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 344, fig. 612 (color).

Maryan W. Ainsworth et al. Art and Autoradiography: Insights into the Genesis of Paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Vermeer. New York, 1982, pp. 70, 101, pls. 43–46 (overall, x-radiograph, and autoradiographs), discusses the recovery of the preliminary sketch through autoradiographs.

Christopher Wright. Rembrandt: Self-Portraits. London, 1982, pp. 32, 44, no. 50, pl. 90.

J[osua]. Bruyn et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 1, 1625–1631. The Hague, 1982, p. 229, under no. A21.

Gary Schwartz. Rembrandt, His Life, His Paintings. New York, 1985, fig. 411 (color).

Pascal Bonafoux. Rembrandt: A Self-Portrait. Geneva, 1985, p. 151, ill. p. 119 (color).

Jan Kelch. Der Mann mit dem Goldhelm. Berlin, 1986, p. 27, figs. 20–21 (overall and x-ray).

Christian Tümpel. Rembrandt: Mythos und Methode. Königstein, 1986, p. 428, no. A73, ill. p. 368 (color), as by an anonymous artist in Rembrandt's circle.

Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 48.

H. Perry Chapman. Rembrandt's Self-portraits: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Identity. Princeton, 1990, pp. 87–88, fig. 125.

Pierre Cabanne. Rembrandt. [Paris], 1991, p. 152, no. 9, ill., dates it 1645.

Leonard J. Slatkes. Rembrandt: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1992, p. 400, no. 266, ill. (color).

Jeroen Giltaij inRembrandt, His Teachers and His Pupils. Exh. cat., Bunkamura Museum of Art. Tokyo, 1992, pp. 161, 252, under no. 90.

Walter Liedtke inRembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, "Paintings, Drawings, and Prints: Art-Historical Perspectives."New York, [1995], pp. 76–78, 86, 89, no. 15, ill. (color).

Wayne Franits. "Young Women Preferred White to Brown: Some Remarks on Nicolaes Maes and the Cultural Context of Late Seventeenth-Century Dutch Portraiture." Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 46 (1995), p. 409, fig. 9.

Hubert von Sonnenburg. Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, "Paintings: Problems and Issues."New York, 1995, pp. 20–21, 25, 48, 54, 134, figs. 3 (view of Paintings Conservation studio), 14 (color detail), 15 (autoradiograph detail), 50 (color detail), 51 (x-radiograph detail), 167 (color detail).

William Grimes. "An Enigma Sometimes Wrapped in a Fake." New York Times (October 1, 1995), ill. p. H1.

Herbert Lank. "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Aspects of Connoisseurship." Studies in Conservation 41, no. 2 (1996), p. 124.

Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met with Susan Rothenberg and Bruce Nauman." New York Times (February 21, 1997), p. C26, ill.

Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, p. 121, ill. [text similar to Kimmelman 1997].

Marieke de Winkel inRembrandt by Himself. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1999, pp. 65–66.

Edwin Buijsen inRembrandt by Himself. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1999, pp. 202, 208, 211–12, 252 n. 219, no. 80, ill. (color).

Christopher Wright. Rembrandt. Paris, 2000, p. 330, figs. 337 (color detail), 342 (color).

Benjamin Binstock. "Review of Schama 1999." Art Bulletin 82 (June 2000), p. 362.

Ernst van de Wetering. "Thirty Years of the Rembrandt Research Project: The Tension Between Science and Connoisseurship in Authenticating Art." IFAR Journal 4, no. 2 (2001), p. 21.

Esmée Quodbach. "'Rembrandt's "Gilder" is here': How America Got its First Rembrandt and France Lost Many of its Old Masters." Simiolus 31, no. 1/2 (2004), p. 104.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 33, 35–36, 38, 70, figs. 37 (color), 40 (color, MMA Altman gallery photograph).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. ix, 164; vol. 2, pp. 549, 669, 687–93, 762, 778, 782, 797 n. 10, no. 157, colorpl. 157.

Blaise Ducos and Bruno Mottin et al. inRembrandt: Three Faces of the Master. Ed. Benedict Leca. Exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum. Cincinnati, 2008, p. 83, fig. 50 (color).

George S. Keyes inRembrandt in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship. Exh. cat., North Carolina Museum of Art. New York, 2011, pp. 73–74, 84 n. 41, p. 134, fig. 68 (color).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 289, no. 240, ill. pp. 234, 289 (color).

Old Masters: Evening Sale. Christie's, London. July 6, 2017, p. 139, fig. 1 (color), under no. 30.

Engraved by G. F. Schmidt.

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