A Rembrandt for Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi will be unveiling a new acquisition in its Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age exhibition opening on Thursday 14 February.

Head of a young man, with clasped hands is an oil sketch painted on oak panel by Rembrandt van Rijn, probably in the 1650s.

The bulk of the exhibition is made up of loans from the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Leiden Collection from Vienna. But Head of a young man was sold at Sotheby’s at the end of 2018 for a well-above-estimate £9.48 million, and it has been confirmed that the buyer was the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

It’s rare for any Rembrandt to come on to the market, which places greater emphasis on authentication. But experts do generally agree that this is indeed Rembrandt’s work – although it only came to light in the 1930s, and there is no signature (sketches aren’t usually signed), there has been little dispute about its authenticity. Until recently it hung in the artist’s house in Amsterdam.

It’s thought that the painting belongs to a series referred to as the ‘Face of Jesus’ group. Seven of these oil sketches survive, though there is some debate over how many of the seven were indisputably by Rembrandt rather than by his studio. But this one (along with another at the Gemäldegalerie art museum in Berlin) is generally accepted as being by Rembrandt’s hand – in which case the fingerprints identified in the original layer of paint along the lower edge are probably his too.

Michel van de Laar, one of the researchers who first spotted the fingerprints, spoke about the find at a Sotheby’s event in London last November.

“The discovery of the fingerprints is further testament to the speed with which the work was likely executed, and provides fresh insight into Rembrandt’s complex but swift painting technique,” he said. The painting would have been executed in one sitting; additional colours and layers would be hastily applied before the underlay dried, rather than the more usual method with finished works of waiting for one layer to dry before another is applied.

Rembrandt’s surviving sketches generally did not serve as direct preparation for a painting, but more often as studies of the fall of light and the rendering of human emotion. The aim was to find the best angle or profile to use light to portray Jesus realistically, as a man rather than a God or a king.

The painting was created about 1655 and the model is likely to have been one of the young Jewish men who lived in the artist’s neighbourhood in Amsterdam.

“Rembrandt was one of history of art’s greatest storytellers, with an exceptional ability to capture the human soul in his artworks,” said Manuel Rabaté, Director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. “With this latest acquisition, the first ever Rembrandt joining a museum collection in the Gulf, our visitors can experience the power of his creations first-hand, initially in our opening exhibition for 2019 and following that in our galleries.

“It will join the 650 artworks of the museum’s collection from cultures around the world, celebrating the universal creativity of humanity”.

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