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Rembrandt worth £30m found hanging in Devon abbey

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: June 10, 2014

Tina Sitwell, paintings conservation advisor, looking at the self-portrait of Rembrandt which has returned to Buckland Abbey, Devon, after being scientifically verified as being from the Dutch Old Master's own hand. Photo: Steve Haywood

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A painting which had been hanging in a Devon abbey has been confirmed as a genuine Rembrandt.

The self-portrait on display at Buckland Abbey, the former home of Sir Francis Drake, was previously doubted as being genuine.

It has now been scientifically verified after an eight-month process as being from the Dutch Old Master’s own hand - and is worth £30million.

After undergoing eight months of painstaking investigative work at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridgeshire – and re-examination by the world’s leading Rembrandt expert – this now famous self-portrait, the original ‘selfie’, is the first Rembrandt in the National Trust’s collection of 13,500 paintings.

Painted by Rembrandt in 1635, the authenticity of the portrait had previously been thrown into doubt by Rembrandt specialist Horst Gerson and the Rembrandt Research Project in 1968.

In 2005 Ernst van de Wetering, one of these experts, concluded that the painting may well be a genuine Rembrandt when confronted with an X-radiograph of the painting and other circumstantial evidence.

In 2012 he had a chance to study the painting at the Trust’s Buckland Abbey, near Tavistock and his assurance led the conservation charity to send the painting away for further scientific analysis which confirmed its authenticity.

David Taylor, Paintings and Sculptor Curator at the National Trust said: “The debate over whether this is or isn’t a Rembrandt has been on-going for decades.

“The key element for me has been the cleaning. The varnish was so yellow that it was difficult to see how beautifully the portrait had been painted. Now you can really see all the flesh tones and other colours, as well as the way in which the paint has been handled – it’s now much easier to appreciate it as a Rembrandt.

“With the technical analysis backing up Ernst’s claims, we are obviously very excited.”

The painting has now returned home to Buckland. Post analysis, the painting has an estimated nominal value of £30million, though as the National Trust cares for items for public benefit for ever, it could never be sold.

Jez McDermott, property manager at Buckland Abbey, said: “This has been a fascinating journey for all of us involved. We are very much looking forward to welcoming many visitors to share the story with them at our Rembrandt Revealed Exhibition.”

The exhibition at Buckland explains the journey of discovery National Trust staff have been on. Visitors will also be asked to contribute their own ‘selfie’ at Buckland to an interactive display, helping mark the importance of self-portraits in the history of European art and culture and celebrate the return of this remarkable find to Buckland.

Rembrandt Revealed opens at Buckland Abbey on Friday 13 June.

HAMILTON Kerr Institute paintings conservator Christine Slottvedd Kimbriel said: “The self-portrait went through a series of investigative analyses including close visual examination under magnification, infra-red reflectography, x-radiography, raking light photography and pigment and medium analysis.

“Careful cleaning and removal of several layers of aged and yellowed varnish which had been added to the painting much later, revealed the original colours and painting style beneath.

“Next, it was close investigation of the artist’s signature that gave us one of the biggest clues as to its true authenticity. The cross-section analysis left no reason to doubt that the inscription was added at the time of execution of the painting.

“The infrared reflectography and x-ray photography gave further insight into the compositional changes that took place at various stages during the execution of the portrait.”

Other processes undertaken included analysis of the wooden panel. A portable XRF (x ray fluorescence) instrument was used for non-invasive analysis across the surface of the painting together with cross section and FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) analysis. This confirmed that the pigments were consistent with those typically used by Rembrandt.

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