National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1933
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Between 1629 and his death in 1669, Rembrandt made thousands of drawings of his own face and dozens of painted self-portraits. Of his final self-portraits, which revealed wrinkles and tired skin, he was said to have remarked, ‘I … look for myself and recognize myself. What have I found? Death painted’. For reasons unknown – perhaps for the purpose of instruction – Rembrandt’s assistants collaborated in their master’s obsessive task of of self-documentation.
This painting has long been clouded in controversy. Acquired as a self-portrait by Rembrandt, the work’s attribution has been questioned ever since its arrival in Australia in 1933. While the painting’s history can be firmly traced back to 1756 – when it is known to have been in the collection of Margaret Cavendish, second Duchess of Portland (1715–1785) – Rembrandt scholars have for many years remained divided over its authorship. In 1982 the Rembrandt Research Project declared this painting to be by an unknown artist working in the manner of Rembrandt. More recently, further technical investigation, undertaken by the National Gallery of Victoria’s conservation staff, has encouraged the scholars of the Rembrandt Research Project to reassess the work. They now consider Rembrandt to belong to a group of ‘self-portraits’, made for an as yet undetermined purpose, which originated in Rembrandt’s workshop and were painted before Rembrandt’s own eyes by one or more of his studio assistants.
Reproduction - commissioned by the NGV London
Ebony and softwood
The first oil painting attributed to Rembrandt came into the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1933.
The painting came to the collection in what appears to be an eighteenth century English Regency frame. It is reproduced in the frame in a photograph from the Argus newspaper, 2 March 1951, accompanied by a discussion of the painting by Arnold Shore at the time Rembrandt’s Portrait of a white haired man was acquired.
The painting was reframed in a variant of seventeenth century Dutch styles made in London by Frederick Pollak in 1954. (above)
This frame is likely to have been made around the time Daryl Lindsay had the Portrait of a white haired man, (acquired 1951) reframed. The frame is close to 180mm ( 7.5 inches) in width and is largely a reverse profile timber form with three strips of gilding.
A new proposal to reframe the painting came in 2013. A variant of a scotia frame with a run of ripple moulding was selected.
A frame with this profile had been supplied from London, as an alternative framing for De Vos Mother and Child (2009.2) in 2010. The frame was cut down with the corners re-cut to replicate the half lap joints of the back frame.
Cutting down the frame exposed the structure of this carefully constructed reproduction frame, which uses ebony for the shaped sections of the face of the frame, a soft wood for the ripple moulded section and softwood sections for the back frame. This is reflective of the construction of seventeenth century frames of this type, which used a fruitwood back frame with ebony panels applied to the face of the frame, shaped to form the flats, scotias and ogee curves.
The painting was fitted into the re-formatted frame in May 2013. (top)