‘Rembrandt by himself’: a brief history of the Melbourne portrait of Rembrandt by an unknown artist


The National Gallery of Victoria has in its collection two paintings by the Dutch master Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606–1669): Two old men disputing, 1628, executed when the artist was twenty-two years of age; and Portrait of a white-haired man, painted in 1667, only two years before Rembrandt’s death. Both works, purchased under the terms of the Felton Bequest in 1934 and 1951 respectively,1 See U. Hoff & M. Plant, National Gallery of Victoria, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1968, pp. 58–60; L. B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, [1970], pp. 134–9, 218–20; and J. Gregory & I. Zdanowicz, Rembrandt in the Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1988, pp. 20–43, 59–64. have been accorded an Α-level classification by the Rembrandt Research Project, established in 1969 to investigate and clarify authorship of the large number of canvases at that time attributed to the master.2 The Α-level classification denotes the Rembrandt Research Project team’s acceptance of a painting as by Rembrandt’s own hand. The original members of the Project team were: Drs Josua Bruyn, Bob Haak, Simon Levie, Pieter van Thiel and Ernst van de Wetering, with Professors J. A. Emmens and J. G. van Gelder acting as consultants. For an outline of the Rembrandt Research Project’s objectives and working methods, see J. Bruyn, B. Haak, S. H. Levie, P. J. J. van Thiel & E. van de Wetering, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, trans. D. Cook-Radmore, vol. I, 1625–1631, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1982, pp. x–xvii.

In evaluating The two philosophers, the Research Project team found the signature on the painting to be autograph, and acknowledged that although the date of 1628 is no longer visible on the canvas there is reliable evidence of the earlier presence of such an inscription. The Project team also acknowledged that despite a lack of continuous provenance for the painting there is documented seventeenth-century evidence of its early ownership. In addition, X-radiography carried out by the National Gallery of Victoria led the Project team to conclude that details of the underpainting in The two philosophers correspond with those in a Rembrandt drawing in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, indicating that this drawing may be considered a study for the Melbourne painting.3 For a full account of the Rembrandt Research Project’s conclusions, see Bruyn et al., vol. I, no. A.13. See also Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 21–43, fig. 4.

Portrait of a white-haired man was similarly found to be authentic, with the Research Project team designating the picture ‘an outstanding example of Rembrandt’s late portrait style’, and identifying it as one of only two known portraits dating from the artist’s late period.4 See Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 59–76, fig. 39; and C. Brown, J. Kelch & P. van Thiel, Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop (exh. cat.), Yale University Press, New Haven, & National Gallery, London, 1991, cat. no. 50. The findings of the Rembrandt Research Project group relative to this painting are yet to be published. In 1991–92, Portrait of a white-haired man was included in the major exhibition Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop, seen at the Altes Museum in Berlin, at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and at the National Gallery in London.

While the attributions of Two old men disputing and Portrait of a white-haired man were thus confirmed by the Rembrandt Research Project group, a third painting ascribed to the master – the work traditionally identified as a self-portrait (fig. 1) – has been reclassified in the wake of the Research Project team’s detailed analysis of 1972.5 Drs Bob Haak and Pieter van Thiel of the Rembrandt Research Project visited the National Gallery of Victoria in October 1972 (see Bruyn et al., vol. I, p. 159), and over a three-day period subjected the three paintings then ascribed to Rembrandt to an intensive visual and photographic examination. Found to lack the technical mastery of the works in Rembrandt’s authentic oeuvre, the ‘self-portrait’ is now known as Portrait of Rembrandt by an unknown artist in the manner of Rembrandt. This reattribution raises a number of interesting questions about the work’s origins, but, more particularly, it provides an unique opportunity to look back – with the benefit of the advances in Rembrandt scholarship that have marked the latter part of this century, specifically through the work of the Rembrandt Research Project – at the conditions governing the formulation of the initial attribution and at the historical context within which that attribution was framed some sixty years ago.

The acquisition
Purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1933 from the collection of the 6th Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire, the Gallery’s portrait, inscribed and dated Rembrandt f. 1660 to the centre right, shows Rembrandt in his mature years, grey-haired and wearing a gold cloth cap with a white band framing the face; the collar of his brown cloth coat is partly turned up to reveal a red shirt. Presented against a sombre background, the sitter’s face, turned slightly to the side, is cast into dramatic relief by illumination falling from the upper left. The tonalities of the portrait, though rich, are subdued and muted, the palette limited.

The acquisition of the Welbeck portrait was recommended to the Gallery by Randall Davies, London adviser to the Felton Bequest.6 See Randall Davies, letter to the Felton Bequests’ Committee, 9 February 1933, National Gallery of Victoria Archives, Felton Bequest box 2/17. For a lively account of the acquisition of the portrait, see Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 11–12. The portrait had been noted by C. K. Adams of the National Portrait Gallery, London, who had viewed it when cataloguing the Portland collection, and in March 1933 it was attributed to Rembrandt in an article in Burlington Magazine by leading British Rembrandt scholar and distinguished critic Sir Charles Holmes (1868–1936).7 C. Holmes, ‘Rembrandt Portrait from Welbeck’, Burlington Magazine, vol. LXII, no. 360, March 1933, pp. 103–7. See also U. Hoff, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800, 3rd edn, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973, p. 120.

Editor of Burlington Magazine from 1903 to 1909, and Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford until 1911, Holmes, himself an artist, had published Notes on the Science of Picture Making in 1909 and Notes on the Art of Rembrandt in 1911; in the period 1916–28 he had been director of both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Since 1930, he had also acted as consultant to the National Gallery of Victoria’s Felton Adviser, Randall Davies, and it was in this capacity that in February 1933 he submitted to the Gallery a report on the Welbeck picture. Using known Rembrandt self-portraits as the basis for his evaluation, Holmes wrote enthusiastically in favour of the proposed acquisition. At the same time, however, he expressed the view that the Welbeck picture was ‘less monumental’ than the self- portrait in the Frick Collection, New York; that it ‘lacked the volume and imposing bulk’ of that in the Iveagh Bequest at Kenwood House, London; and that it was ‘less masterful in temper’ than the self-portrait of the late 1650s in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna8 Sir Charles Holmes, report to the Felton Bequests’ Committee, 7 February 1933, National Gallery of Victoria Archives, Felton Bequest box 2/17. In preparing his report, Holmes had called upon the scientific expertise of Prof. A. P. Laurie, who, using infra-red photography for perhaps the first time in this particular field, showed the date on the Welbeck picture to be 1660 (see Hoff, p. 120). For an illustrated comparison of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, see C. Wright, Rembrandt: Self-Portraits, Fraser, London, 1982. – in other words, it lacked those qualities that are recognised today as characteristic of Rembrandt’s mature oeuvre.

Despite the recent reattribution of the Melbourne portrait, Holmes’s reputation was deservedly a fine one and his attributions informed, and reasonable, within the context of scholarship and connoisseurship in which they were made. It should be noted that experts throughout the century have held divergent opinions on the status of the Welbeck/Melbourne picture,9 See E. W. Moes, Iconographia Batavia, vol. 2, Amsterdam, 1905, no. 6693–67, p. 315; C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. G. Hawke, vol. VI, Macmillan, London, 1916, p. 284, no. 579; A. Bredius, The Paintings of Rembrandt, trans. J. Byam Shaw, Phaidon, London, 1937, no. 56; K. Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde, Walter de Gruijter, Berlin, 1966, no. 335; F. Erpel, Die Selbstbildnisse Rembrandts, Munich, 1967; and K. Clark, An Introduction to Rembrandt, John Murray, London, 1978, pp. 30–2. P. Lecaldano, The Complete Paintings of Rembrandt, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1973, n.p., lists the painting among ‘Other Rembrandtesque Works’; C. Wright, Rembrandt: Self- Portraits, p. 33, suggests that the work might ‘end up as rejected’. W. R. Valentiner, Rembrandt, Leipzig, 1909, and H. Gerson, Rembrandt Paintings, Reynel, Amsterdam, 1968, omit the portrait. P. Tomory & R. Gaston, European Paintings before 1800 in Australian and New Zealand Public Collections, Beagle Press, Sydney, 1989, no. 384, identify the painting as by an imitator of Rembrandt, and read the date as 1665. and it may be that Holmes’s findings were in part influenced by the views of Dutch experts who had viewed the portrait earlier this century.10 Dr B. W. F. van Riemsdijk, Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, had seen the portrait at Welbeck on 18 August 1910 (see Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. 5), and Corneils Hofstede de Groot had visited Welbeck before 1916 (Hofstede de Groot, p. 284, no. 579). It should also be said that since its earliest days in the collection of the Portland family, the painting was recorded – and widely accepted – as a work by Rembrandt’s own hand.

Historical background
The Portrait of Rembrandt was ‘discovered’ in the Portland collection at Welbeck Abbey in 1894 by the librarian C. Fairfax Murray, who subsequently published it as ‘ascribed to Rembrandt’, with a firm provenance dating from 1809.11 C. Fairfax Murray, Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to His Grace, the Duke of Portland, at Welbeck Abbey and in London, Chiswick Press, London, 1894, pp. 2–3. The 1809 Bulstrode List, drawn up by Thomas Hill, Jnr, after the death of the 3rd Duke of Portland, described the Melbourne portrait as among those works that had been moved from Bulstrode House, Buckinghamshire, the former seat of the Portland family.12 See R. W. Goulding, Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, K. G., at Welbeck Abbey, 17 Hill Street, London, and Langwell House, revised by C. K. Adams, University Press, Cambridge, 1936, p. xvii. The Portland Papers were made a gift to the nation by the 6th Duke of Portland, probably in the 1940s. They have since been distributed between the British Library, the University of Nottingham Library, and Nottinghamshire Records Office and, with the exception of those documents that have suffered water damage, are now available for public study. It has since been established that the painting was hanging in the dining-room of Bulstrode House by the mid-eighteenth century.13 See Catalogue of Pictures Bequeathed by Sir William Musgrave, 1770–75, f. I, Painted Portraits from Mr. Pennant’s MSS, p. 42, Bulstrode no. 16, ‘Rembrandt by self’, British Museum, London, BM Add. MSS 5726 ff. 1–5. See also Hoff, p. 120; and Gregory & Zdanowicz, p. 75 n. 67.

Bulstrode had become the seat of the Portlands in 1699, when it was purchased by the Dutch-born Hans William Bentinck (1649–1709), who had been created Earl of Portland by William of Orange in 1698.14 The Portland estates had become vacant in 1688, when the 4th Earl of Portland, Thomas Weston, died in poverty and without heirs. Bentinck purchased Bulstrode House from Chancellor Lord Jeffreys (see A. S. Turberville, A History of Welbeck Abbey and Its Owners, vol. 2, 1755–1879, Faber, London, 1938, p. 2). The extensive collections noted by eighteenth-century visitors to Bulstrode Park were assembled in the middle years of the century by Margaret Cavendish, second Duchess of Portland (1715–1785), a perspicacious collector, catholic in her interests and tastes: her collections consisted not only of many inherited paintings and drawings but also of rare and exotic breeds of animals and birds, together with plants and objects of natural history.15 See S. Festing, ‘Rare Flowers and Fantastic Breeds: The Second Duchess of Portland and Her Circle’, Country Life, 12 June 1986, pp. 1684–6. Within galloping distance of London, Bulstrode attracted visits not only from royalty, but also from tourists, artists and scholars, and it is through the latter that we have written records of eighteenth-century impressions of the house and estate, and of the portrait that at that time received much attention as a work by the hand of Rembrandt himself.

The earliest recorded reference to the picture is dated Tuesday, 8 August 1769, and was penned by Sir Harbottle Grimston, 3rd Viscount Verulam, at the time of his visit to Bulstrode on his way to Wales. He described the house as ‘an handsome, well-built, brick mansion, exceedingly well worth seeing on account of a very good collection of pictures’, and went on to list two portraits by Rembrandt – ‘A Boy’s Head’ and ‘Rembrandt by Himself’.16 Report on the Manuscripts of the Earl of Verulam, Preserved at Gorhambury, Historical Manuscripts Commission, London, 1906, pp. 242–3. My thanks to Jacqueline McComish of the National Gallery, London, for bringing this information to my attention.

Although 1769 may thus be regarded as the earliest unambiguous reference to the picture at Bulstrode, it can also be speculated, with good reason, that the portrait was in the Portland collection by the 1750s. The librarian at Welbeck Abbey from 1902 to 1929, R. W. Goulding, reporting on the common eighteenth-century practice of identifying paintings in family collections, records that the 1st Duke of Portland had written his name and impressed his seal on the back of his paintings, while the second Countess of Oxford, mother of the second Duchess of Portland, had used brown lettering to identify those works that belonged to her. The second Duchess, in her turn, had ‘caused neat white letters to be added to the paintings [at Bulstrode]’ between 1748 and 1756.17 Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi. Prior to the 1933 cleaning in England of the Welbeck picture (in advance of its acquisition by the Gallery), the inscription Rembrandt by himself, in the same white lettering that identifies the works in the second Duchess’s collection at Bulstrode,18 A second signature, in a different hand and located beneath the signature at the centre right, was also removed during the cleaning. was visible across the top of the canvas; this suggests that the portrait was in place at Bulstrode at least by 1756, the latest date given for the application of the white lettering on the second Duchess’s paintings.19 Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi.

It is possible, however, to hypothesise an even earlier date for the introduction of the ‘self-portrait’ to the Bulstrode collection. In 1724, a Swiss scholar by the name of John Achard (1721–1770) had joined the Bulstrode household as tutor to the two sons of the 1st Duke of Portland. Achard was responsible for overseeing the education of the boys at Eton and Leiden, and correspondence published by Goulding indicates that he was in Leiden in 1727, 1728 and 1730.20 R. W. Goulding, ‘John Achard: A Duke’s Tutor and Friend’, National Review, London, vol. LXII, September 1913, pp. 85–101. He then accompanied the future 2nd Duke on a grand tour of the Continent, visiting Lausanne, Kassel, Florence and Milan. There is no record in his letters of any paintings being acquired during these years: indeed, the correspondence reveals that these times were somewhat lean for the Portland family.21 ibid.

Among Achard’s papers is a collection of miniature ‘picture frames’, scale one inch to one foot, which have been cut from a set of large playing-cards hand-decorated in watercolour. The purpose of these ‘frames’, each of which is identified in a very neat handwriting, was to catalogue the Bulstrode art collection. One frame is marked as follows:

At upper right: Pw C 689
Across top: Rembrandt’s own head by himself
At lower left: 3–0
[3′ 0″ x 2′ 7″]
2–7
Across bottom: at Bulstrode22 MS Portland London Collection, Letters to and Other Papers of John Achard 1721–1770, Pw C 672–712, p. 24, University of Nottingham Library.

Although the handmade small-scale frames are not dated, an examination of correspondence between Achard and the second Duchess reveals that the inscription detailed above is in Achard’s hand23 Mrs Linda Shaw, Assistant Keeper of the Manuscripts, University of Nottingham Library, kindly provided me with samples of the handwriting of both Achard and the second Duchess (Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 20 June 1989). (with the exception of the Pw C 689, which was added by an archivist during the 1950s).24 Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 18 May 1989. The collection of Portland papers at Nottingham was deposited there by the 6th Duke in 1948. Despite differences in scale, the inscription Rembrandt’s own head by himself is similar in style, but not identical to, the inscription Rembrandt by himself that formerly appeared in white lettering on the Melbourne painting.

The miniature picture frame confirms the presence of the ‘self-portrait’ at Bulstrode during Achard’s lifetime. Moreover, it seems quite likely that the inscription on the frame predates the 1769 Grimston reference, as Achard died at Bulstrode in 1770, having lived and worked there for almost fifty years,25 See Goulding, ‘A Duke’s Tutor’, p. 100. The 6th Duke of Portland was of the opinion that the picture originally came from the Bentinck collection in Holland, and that it had possibly arrived in England with the 1st Earl (6th Duke of Portland, ‘The Welbeck Rembrandt’ [letter], The Times, 7 June 1933, p. 13). If this were the case, the signature and seal of the 1st Duke of Portland should have been apparent on the back of the canvas. Unfortunately, however, the painting has been relined and there is no visible evidence of any signature or seal of this kind. and as the white lettering on the second Duchess’s paintings was most probably added prior to 1756.

On the basis of the assembled evidence, it is possible, then, to state that the ‘self-portrait’ was at Bulstrode definitely in 1769, probably in or before 1756, and possibly even earlier in the century – if Achard’s ‘frames’ were made earlier rather than later during his period of service with the Portland family.

In 1810 the painting was listed as no. 27 – ‘Portrait of the Artist, Rembrandt (2’5″ x 2’0″)’ – in the inventory of the collection at Burlington House (the London residence of the Portland family), where it was described as one of the paintings formerly at Bulstrode.26 See Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvii. A separate list specified that the painting was ‘not now at Welbeck’,27 ibid., p. xxi. indicating that it was probably at Burlington House prior to the sale of that property and that it had possibly been moved there from Bulstrode via Welbeck Abbey. Certainly at some stage in the early part of the nineteenth century the portrait was moved permanently to the new seat of the Portland family at Welbeck Abbey, where it hung above a doorway in the entrance hall.28 See Fairfax Murray, p. 3. See also the 6th Duke of Portland, ‘The Welbeck Rembrandt’.

It was there that it was recorded by Fairfax Murray, in the following terms:

 

bust, life size, to the right, brown coat, red vest, yellow cap with white lining. Above the head is inscribed ‘REMBRANDT BY HIMSELF’ in white letters. To the right is a signature ‘REMBRANDT F 1665’. Last numeral has been read as ‘O’ but has a long tail like a freely written ‘5’. Beneath this signature as the author of the 1861 Catalogue observed29 See note 33 below. are traces of another in an entirely different manner [this signature was removed by the 1933 cleaning]. Canvas 30 1/4″ Η x 24″ W. From Bulstrode, no. 16, MS list in British Museum. Hanging in the entrance hall at Welbeck.30 Fairfax Murray, pp. 2–3.

 

There are two tertiary inscriptions on the back of the painting’s frame, both in white lead: Sept. 1860 and Ν 387. It has been recorded that in 1857, 196 paintings, drawings and etchings were discovered in ‘the Loft and Wardrobe and another room [at Welbeck]’.31 Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. 376. The 5th Duke of Portland (1800–1879) subsequently had them ‘cleaned of dust and dirt … relined and reframed in seventeenth and eighteenth century frames’.32 ibid. The identifying number Ν 387 appears on a list, drawn up by the 5th Duke in August 1860, of paintings marked ‘to go to L[ondon?] to be cleaned’.33 I have also had access, through Mrs Linda Shaw, University of Nottingham Library, to a photocopy of a single page of a list which may be that drawn up by Charles Taylor, master painter, of Worksop, Nottingham (Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 20 June 1989). Taylor was reported as having drawn up a list of 653 paintings, drawings and etchings in 1861 for the 5th Duke of Portland (Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi), but that list’s present whereabouts are unknown.

Reception in Melbourne
In advance of the arrival of the Welbeck picture in Australia, Sir Charles Holmes warned the Gallery’s Trustees that the painting might not be to the liking of the Melbourne public, because it was ‘different from any of the pictures by Rembrandt or anyone else submitted to them’.34 Sir Charles Holmes, report to the Felton Bequests’ Committee. And, indeed, when the portrait duly arrived in Melbourne it was accorded a mixed reception. The public – perhaps uncomfortable with what they saw as an artist of genius’s sombre representation of his own physical decline – disliked the picture. Some critical voices also decried the expenditure involved in such a purchase in the wake of the Great Depression, while still others declared the new acquisition a ‘fake’.35 Cox, p. 128.

The artistic community, both at home and abroad, was of a divided mind. John Farmer, a London-based former contemporary of the artists of the Heidelberg School, was most enthusiastic about the painting.36 Farmer believed that the painting was a magnificent example of a great period in Rembrandt’s career, and that such a work could be rejected only by a public that was ill-informed. My thanks to Peter Perry, Director of the Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum, for an unidentified Melbourne newspaper cutting testifying to Farmer’s views. Similarly positive were the artist William Frater and the critic Arnold Shore,37 For Shore’s and Frater’s assessments, see Argus, 2 March 1951. as was the Star newspaper in Hobart.38 Star, Hobart, 19 October 1935.

In marked contrast, H. Walter Barnett, an expatriate artist in France and another associate of the Heidelberg painters, issued a formal protest against the new acquisition,39 H. Walter Barnett, A Protest against the Maladministration of the Beneficent Public Trust Known As the Felton Bequest, privately published, Paris, 1933, p. 3 (information courtesy of Peter Perry, Director, Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum). while the Melbourne dealer W. H. Gill, armed with photographs of works from Rembrandt’s known oeuvre, attempted to disabuse Shore and Frater of their ‘mistaken’ notions of the work’s importance. Reservations about the quality of the picture were also expressed by a number of important Australian artists, among them Max Meldrum, Arthur Streeton and Hans Heysen,40 Meldrum said that he felt that Melbourne was being made a ‘dumping ground’ for inferior European art. He said that while the Welbeck portrait belonged to Rembrandt’s best period it was not a good example of the artist’s later work (Max Meldrum, quoted in the Herald, 16 January 1934). Streeton expressed concern about the tonal values in the picture, believing them to be out of character with the rest of Rembrandt’s oeuvre (see D. Marr, ‘Changing the Label’, National Times, 3–9 August 1984, p. 16). Heysen went the furthest of all, condemning the painting outright and describing it as ‘flat … valueless to the student, and without interest or inspiration to the general public’ (Hans Heysen, quoted in Truth, 25 April 1935). while other artists voiced their criticism of the fact that the painting had been cleaned before being sent to Australia.41 See F. Godden & B. Young, Argus, 17 January 1937. John Longstaff declared that ‘cleaning ruined 10 out of 12 paintings’ (quoted in Marr, p. 17).

Meanwhile, some of Australia’s notable art administrators had entered the fray. Leslie Wilkie, Curator at the National Gallery of South Australia, said that the portrait, though ‘very fine’, was not of Rembrandt’s best,42 Leslie Wilkie, quoted in the Sun, 16 January 1934. and J. S. MacDonald, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, supported Heysen’s description of the painting as ‘merely a rapid sketch’.43 J. S. MacDonald, quoted in Truth, 25 April 1935.

On balance, however, the controversy generated in Australia by the Welbeck painting appears to have been based more on concerns about the inferior quality of the picture within Rembrandt’s oeuvre than about questions of authenticity per se.

By the 1930s, the painting had in many quarters been accepted for over 150 years as a work by the master’s own hand, and Sir Charles Holmes’s assessment of its authenticity followed in a respected scholarly tradition. While the investigations of the Rembrandt Research Project, aided by technologies unavailable to Holmes and his colleagues in the 1930s, have since led to the removal of the portrait from the master’s oeuvre, the Portrait of Rembrandt remains a fascinating work. An undoubted record of Rembrandt’s likeness as an old man, it raises in the wake of its reattribution a host of important, and as yet unanswered, questions: What are the origins of the portrait and when was it painted? Could it have been painted from some lost original? How did it make its way into the collections of the second Duchess of Portland, and on what grounds did the Duchess base her belief in the picture’s authenticity?

With the history of the portrait’s provenance intact from the mid-eighteenth century, the answers to these questions must lie in the preceding one hundred years, in the period from c. 1660 onwards. Until information about the painting’s whereabouts during this period comes to light, the origins of the Portrait of Rembrandt, like the identity of the artist that painted it, will remain shrouded in mystery.

Nancy Sturgess

Notes

1     See U. Hoff & M. Plant, National Gallery of Victoria, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1968, pp. 58–60; L. B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, [1970], pp. 134–9, 218–20; and J. Gregory & I. Zdanowicz, Rembrandt in the Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1988, pp. 20–43, 59–64.

2     The Α-level classification denotes the Rembrandt Research Project team’s acceptance of a painting as by Rembrandt’s own hand. The original members of the Project team were: Drs Josua Bruyn, Bob Haak, Simon Levie, Pieter van Thiel and Ernst van de Wetering, with Professors J. A. Emmens and J. G. van Gelder acting as consultants. For an outline of the Rembrandt Research Project’s objectives and working methods, see J. Bruyn, B. Haak, S. H. Levie, P. J. J. van Thiel & E. van de Wetering, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, trans. D. Cook-Radmore, vol. I, 1625–1631, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1982, pp. x–xvii.

3     For a full account of the Rembrandt Research Project’s conclusions, see Bruyn et al., vol. I, no. A.13. See also Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 21–43, fig. 4.

4     See Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 59–76, fig. 39; and C. Brown, J. Kelch & P. van Thiel, Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop (exh. cat.), Yale University Press, New Haven, & National Gallery, London, 1991, cat. no. 50. The findings of the Rembrandt Research Project group relative to this painting are yet to be published.

5     Drs Bob Haak and Pieter van Thiel of the Rembrandt Research Project visited the National Gallery of Victoria in October 1972 (see Bruyn et al., vol. I, p. 159), and over a three-day period subjected the three paintings then ascribed to Rembrandt to an intensive visual and photographic examination.

6     See Randall Davies, letter to the Felton Bequests’ Committee, 9 February 1933, National Gallery of Victoria Archives, Felton Bequest box 2/17. For a lively account of the acquisition of the portrait, see Gregory & Zdanowicz, pp. 11–12.

7     C. Holmes, ‘Rembrandt Portrait from Welbeck’, Burlington Magazine, vol. LXII, no. 360, March 1933, pp. 103–7. See also U. Hoff, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800, 3rd edn, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1973, p. 120.

8     Sir Charles Holmes, report to the Felton Bequests’ Committee, 7 February 1933, National Gallery of Victoria Archives, Felton Bequest box 2/17. In preparing his report, Holmes had called upon the scientific expertise of Prof. A. P. Laurie, who, using infra-red photography for perhaps the first time in this particular field, showed the date on the Welbeck picture to be 1660 (see Hoff, p. 120). For an illustrated comparison of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, see C. Wright, Rembrandt: Self-Portraits, Fraser, London, 1982.

9     See E. W. Moes, Iconographia Batavia, vol. 2, Amsterdam, 1905, no. 6693–67, p. 315; C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. G. Hawke, vol. VI, Macmillan, London, 1916, p. 284, no. 579; A. Bredius, The Paintings of Rembrandt, trans. J. Byam Shaw, Phaidon, London, 1937, no. 56; K. Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde, Walter de Gruijter, Berlin, 1966, no. 335; F. Erpel, Die Selbstbildnisse Rembrandts, Munich, 1967; and K. Clark, An Introduction to Rembrandt, John Murray, London, 1978, pp. 30–2. P. Lecaldano, The Complete Paintings of Rembrandt, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1973, n.p., lists the painting among ‘Other Rembrandtesque Works’; C. Wright, Rembrandt: Self- Portraits, p. 33, suggests that the work might ‘end up as rejected’. W. R. Valentiner, Rembrandt, Leipzig, 1909, and H. Gerson, Rembrandt Paintings, Reynel, Amsterdam, 1968, omit the portrait. P. Tomory & R. Gaston, European Paintings before 1800 in Australian and New Zealand Public Collections, Beagle Press, Sydney, 1989, no. 384, identify the painting as by an imitator of Rembrandt, and read the date as 1665.

10     Dr B. W. F. van Riemsdijk, Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, had seen the portrait at Welbeck on 18 August 1910 (see Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. 5), and Corneils Hofstede de Groot had visited Welbeck before 1916 (Hofstede de Groot, p. 284, no. 579).

11     C. Fairfax Murray, Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to His Grace, the Duke of Portland, at Welbeck Abbey and in London, Chiswick Press, London, 1894, pp. 2–3.

12     See R. W. Goulding, Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, K. G., at Welbeck Abbey, 17 Hill Street, London, and Langwell House, revised by C. K. Adams, University Press, Cambridge, 1936, p. xvii. The Portland Papers were made a gift to the nation by the 6th Duke of Portland, probably in the 1940s. They have since been distributed between the British Library, the University of Nottingham Library, and Nottinghamshire Records Office and, with the exception of those documents that have suffered water damage, are now available for public study.

13     See Catalogue of Pictures Bequeathed by Sir William Musgrave, 1770–75, f. I, Painted Portraits from Mr. Pennant’s MSS, p. 42, Bulstrode no. 16, ‘Rembrandt by self’, British Museum, London, BM Add. MSS 5726 ff. 1–5. See also Hoff, p. 120; and Gregory & Zdanowicz, p. 75 n. 67.

14     The Portland estates had become vacant in 1688, when the 4th Earl of Portland, Thomas Weston, died in poverty and without heirs. Bentinck purchased Bulstrode House from Chancellor Lord Jeffreys (see A. S. Turberville, A History of Welbeck Abbey and Its Owners, vol. 2, 1755–1879, Faber, London, 1938, p. 2).

15     See S. Festing, ‘Rare Flowers and Fantastic Breeds: The Second Duchess of Portland and Her Circle’, Country Life, 12 June 1986, pp. 1684–6.

16     Report on the Manuscripts of the Earl of Verulam, Preserved at Gorhambury, Historical Manuscripts Commission, London, 1906, pp. 242–3. My thanks to Jacqueline McComish of the National Gallery, London, for bringing this information to my attention.

17     Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi.

18     A second signature, in a different hand and located beneath the signature at the centre right, was also removed during the cleaning.

19     Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi.

20     R. W. Goulding, ‘John Achard: A Duke’s Tutor and Friend’, National Review, London, vol. LXII, September 1913, pp. 85–101.

21     ibid.

22     MS Portland London Collection, Letters to and Other Papers of John Achard 1721–1770, Pw C 672–712, p. 24, University of Nottingham Library.

23     Mrs Linda Shaw, Assistant Keeper of the Manuscripts, University of Nottingham Library, kindly provided me with samples of the handwriting of both Achard and the second Duchess (Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 20 June 1989).

24     Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 18 May 1989. The collection of Portland papers at Nottingham was deposited there by the 6th Duke in 1948.

25     See Goulding, ‘A Duke’s Tutor’, p. 100. The 6th Duke of Portland was of the opinion that the picture originally came from the Bentinck collection in Holland, and that it had possibly arrived in England with the 1st Earl (6th Duke of Portland, ‘The Welbeck Rembrandt’ [letter], The Times, 7 June 1933, p. 13). If this were the case, the signature and seal of the 1st Duke of Portland should have been apparent on the back of the canvas. Unfortunately, however, the painting has been relined and there is no visible evidence of any signature or seal of this kind.

26     See Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvii.

27     ibid., p. xxi.

28     See Fairfax Murray, p. 3. See also the 6th Duke of Portland, ‘The Welbeck Rembrandt’.

29     See note 33 below.

30     Fairfax Murray, pp. 2–3.

31     Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. 376.

32     ibid.

33     I have also had access, through Mrs Linda Shaw, University of Nottingham Library, to a photocopy of a single page of a list which may be that drawn up by Charles Taylor, master painter, of Worksop, Nottingham (Linda Shaw, letter to the author, 20 June 1989). Taylor was reported as having drawn up a list of 653 paintings, drawings and etchings in 1861 for the 5th Duke of Portland (Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures, p. xvi), but that list’s present whereabouts are unknown.

34     Sir Charles Holmes, report to the Felton Bequests’ Committee.

35     Cox, p. 128.

36     Farmer believed that the painting was a magnificent example of a great period in Rembrandt’s career, and that such a work could be rejected only by a public that was ill-informed. My thanks to Peter Perry, Director of the Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum, for an unidentified Melbourne newspaper cutting testifying to Farmer’s views.

37     For Shore’s and Frater’s assessments, see Argus, 2 March 1951.

38     Star, Hobart, 19 October 1935.

39     H. Walter Barnett, A Protest against the Maladministration of the Beneficent Public Trust Known As the Felton Bequest, privately published, Paris, 1933, p. 3 (information courtesy of Peter Perry, Director, Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum).

40     Meldrum said that he felt that Melbourne was being made a ‘dumping ground’ for inferior European art. He said that while the Welbeck portrait belonged to Rembrandt’s best period it was not a good example of the artist’s later work (Max Meldrum, quoted in the Herald, 16 January 1934). Streeton expressed concern about the tonal values in the picture, believing them to be out of character with the rest of Rembrandt’s oeuvre (see D. Marr, ‘Changing the Label’, National Times, 3–9 August 1984, p. 16). Heysen went the furthest of all, condemning the painting outright and describing it as ‘flat … valueless to the student, and without interest or inspiration to the general public’ (Hans Heysen, quoted in Truth, 25 April 1935).

41     See F. Godden & B. Young, Argus, 17 January 1937. John Longstaff declared that ‘cleaning ruined 10 out of 12 paintings’ (quoted in Marr, p. 17).

42     Leslie Wilkie, quoted in the Sun, 16 January 1934.

43     J. S. MacDonald, quoted in Truth, 25 April 1935.