|Picture: Public Catalogue Foundation|
One of the Rembrandt rooms at the National Gallery has been re-hung because the great portraits Jacob Trip and Margaretha de Geer, wife of Jacob Trip are on loan to the Frans Hals Museum. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that this smaller portrait of Margaretha de Geer (above) was listed as 'Attributed to Rembrandt'. I queried it at the information desk because I remembered it as being called simply 'Rembrandt'. I was surprised by the change, partly because I think it's by Rembrandt, and partly because the NG Director has said that he doesn't like using the term 'Attributed'.
I was impressed to get an email shortly after, giving me the full history of its labeling at the NG and sending me the entry on the picture from Art in the Making: Rembrandt. They confirmed that it was previously given to Rembrandt, and they've now updated the label to 'Probably by Rembrandt'. I think the avoidance of the term 'attributed' is silly, and I think the portrait is by Rembrandt, but on this occasion I think the new label is spot on. The NG is right to reflect scholarly dissent about the attribution, but also the balance of probability towards Rembrandt. Certain technical aspects of the picture are atypical of Rembrandt, and it rather pales beside the awesome power of the finished portrait, usually shown in the same room. But no other artist has come so close to capturing Rembrandt's late manner, and this is a very accomplished picture. The NG website still lists it as 'Attributed to Rembrandt'.
The portraits currently out on loan usually hang on a narrow wall at the end of a long room, which is exactly the wrong place for them. You need to be able to see them from either side to appreciate the brilliance of Rembrandt's artistry. He makes them appear to face towards you from either side, giving a different aspect. They're not meant to be seen only face-on. When they come home I hope they'll be hung on the adjacent wall where pictures by Jacob van Ruisdael and Simon de Vlieger currently hang.
When they were looking for the picture at the information desk they accidentally gave me a sneak preview of future loans, so I got advance notice of their Late Rembrandt exhibition and I know some of the pictures they're getting ... but I'm not going to tell.