One of the most talked about paintings this year, a self-portrait of Rembrandt which has been hanging in the dining room at Buckland Abbey nr Tavistock in Devon, has been carefully removed and transported to the Paintings Conservation Studio at the University of Cambridge.
Here, a detailed conservation of the painting will take place, alongside a host of scientific tests that will tell us much more about the painting itself – whether it was painted on an oak or beech panel, the type of pigments used and the changes made by the artist in developing the final image as well as any distinctive brushstrokes so characteristic of Rembrandt’s style. All of these are parts of the jigsaw which will hopefully confirm beyond doubt that it is a genuine Rembrandt.
The work to verify the painting will include a painstaking clean as well as a full technical analysis to include x-rays, examination of paint pigments, infrared reflectography to examine any underdrawing and dendrochronology (tree ring dating) to establish the date of the panel if it proves to be oak.
Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have funded £100k towards conservation, investigation works and re-presentation of the painting . Kate Pearson, Trusts Manager at People’s Postcode Lottery said: ’We are delighted that our players are helping the National Trust with this exciting project. As well as funding the investigations, conservation and interpretation, the painting will also be restored at the same time to ensure it can remain at its best for many more years to come.’
Over 60,000 people have so far this year flocked to see the Rembrandt painting, just one of 13,500 paintings in the National Trust collection. Given to the charity in 2010, the painting now has an estimated nominal value of £20 million, though as the National Trust cares for items for public benefit for ever, it could never be sold.
For forty years the provenance of the painting now hanging on the walls of Buckland Abbey, the former home of Sir Francis Drake, was shrouded in mystery. Rembrandt specialist Horst Gerson and the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) had concluded that the portrait of Rembrandt was produced by one of Rembrandt’s pupils.
But now, after years of studying the Dutch Master’s style, and following a new investigation of the painting by the world’s leading Rembrandt expert – Ernst van de Wetering – the painting has been reattributed as being a self-portrait by Rembrandt himself.
Jez McDermott, National Trust General Manager for Buckland Abbey said: ‘It’s been quite a year and our visitors have loved seeing our very own ‘Rembrandt’. It seems a strange thing to say, but ever since we discovered we had a Rembrandt at Buckland we’ve been looking forward to it going away! There’s a huge amount of excitement about the transformation that will hopefully reveal a more rich and vibrant painting as well as a lot more information about its history and how exactly it was painted.
‘Rather than leave a blank space on the wall while the painting is away, we’ve been busy creating our very own ‘Rembrandt’ painting. We have created a collage of portraits that looks just like the original painting from a distance but is actually made up of dozens of tiny portraits of our visitors and volunteers’, added Jez.
The painting was acquired by the National Trust in September 2010 as a gift from the estate of the late Edna, Lady Samuel of Wych Cross. Her husband, the late Harold, Lord Samuel of Wych Cross (1912-1987) was a property developer and philanthropist who collected a great number of paintings during his time, many of which are now on display at the Mansion House in London. It was previously owned by the Princes of Liechtenstein.
Following investigations and conservation work, the painting will once again be on display at Buckland Abbey, early in 2014.