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Art is not an easy field to conquer and understand. It takes years of study, application, and a lifelong investment to consider yourself an expert to fully understand and appreciate the phenomenal field. That's why it took some expert art conservators to discover something distinct about a nearly 500-year-old painting known as the Portrait of a Young Woman. The masterpiece was a supposed creation of Rembrandt, a discovery that would essentially shake the art world like nothing else ever seen before.
The infamous Portrait of A Young woman dates back to 1632. It didn't see its rise to prominence straight away, though. It remained mainly under the radar in the Allentown Art Museum out in Pennsylvania for 60 years before anyone took specific note of it. The museum where it resided took nearly 30 years to get off the ground before the Kress Foundation swooped in with a ground-breaking donation of paintings that began the establishment's great legacy.
One of those paintings donated was the Portrait of a Young Woman. The painting, at the time, was first considered to be attributed to Rembrandt, only for experts to find out something surprising and certainly upsetting centuries later. This discovery meant that the painting needed to remain in Allentown, and only in the year 2018 when the painting was sent to NYU for cleaning, was a discovery made that changed the art world's perspective of the art piece.
Rembrandt was a studious art fanatic who attended the University of Leiden when he was just 14 years old. He was fond of art before studies and this interest led the young genius to an apprenticeship under the tutelage of Jacob van Swanengberg for three years. After learning and equipping himself with knowledge, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam for six months. That's where he learned about narrative painting from artist Pieter Lastman before he returned home to Leiden. Rembrandt was fully confident that he and his friend Jan Lievens were ready to open their own studio.
Between 1629 and the painting of the Portrait of a Young Woman, Rembrandt cemented his place in the art world, so much so that his work and art is still referenced to this day. But this period of hard work caught the eyes of diplomats and art enthusiasts around the world. In 1631, the genius moved to Amsterdam to become a portraitist. It was in this time that he took on apprentices to work under him, and, subsequently, it was also the time that the Portrait of a Young Woman was created too.
Unlike Van Gogh, Rembrandt saw his praises when he was still alive and well. It was Rembrandts's affirmation in his art and himself that enabled his work to live long (a 100-years-later type of long) and still be respected well into the 2010s. But, his work in 2018 received serious notice thanks to a shocking NYU discovery.
Well into the 2000s, Rembrandt's work can be sold for upwards of $95 million. At prices as staggering as these, they're bound to catch the eyes of thieves and frauds--that's inevitable. His work was almost stolen in the year 1972 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where his own work was usurped. This painting, in particular, was the Landscape with Cottages, which were invaluable like all his others. Was this painting truly ever found?
No, not at all. But the theft was highly suspected to be the doings of the Mafia who were trying to construct a ship and that the canvases would be put away during construction. This, however, wasn't the only occurrence as other paintings in Boston that were made in the year 1633. His painting had a very clear target on their back's as many of these robberies weren't simple either as they were Ocean's 11-esque brilliant in their execution.
Two men disguised in police uniform arrived at the Boston-based museum, and, after duping the security guard, they were permitted entrance to supposedly "survey the area". It took just over an hour for half a billion's worth of art was stolen. Fortunately for the Allentown Art Museum, thieves have tried and failed in an attempt to lift any of Rembrandt's fine paintings. As stated before, the Kress Foundation donated the targeted painting and was done so by the donator Samuel H. Kress. Not many knew this, however, which, added to the mystery.
Kress built his worth purely through creating S.H Kress stores which sold affordable and necessary domestic merchandise. He owned a chain of about 200 of these stores across the States. He was far more invested in the collection of Renaissance art. What he collected he would donate to museums and galleries he knew needed them most. One of those that he collected was the Portrait of a Young Woman which he donated to the Allentown Museum. This oversight led to the biggest confusion the art world has ever seen.
It was in 1970 that experts from the Rembrandt Research Project made the connection that while the painting was made in Rembrandt's studio in Amsterdam, this was not his creation, it was the work of his assistant who was under his apprenticeship. They saw this through the quality of the light in the painting as well as the coarse texture indicated that this work was not painted by Rembrandt himself. Also, details in clothes painting and the way the artist's name was written seemed derivative rather than authentic. What did this discovery mean in the long run?
The truth wasn't hidden from the public at all despite the disappointment it brought to museum authorities. Rightfully, it was displayed as the work of a painter under Rembrandt's tutelage rather than represented as his own. But, that wasn't the end of it. In 2018, The Portrait of a Young Woman was sent to NYU for conservation, and another discover came to light.
Various appreciation technology was used at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts in Manhattan to deeply examine the contents of the painting. Every myopic detail was scanned and X-rayed before another secret came to light in the midst of the extreme conservation examination.
The devil was in the details of the brushwork itself. The brushwork matched that of Rembrandt's similar work done during those times--it was uncanny, to say the least. To truly get to the bottom of this, a varnishing process had to take place. Removing layers of varnish would help uproot some key details about the painting without damaging it. The process led to new discoveries about what everyone thought they knew about it.
Once the removal of varnish happened, original and unfiltered colors and details were able to be seen under the microscope. It was a marvel. They could tell that the creation was painted on canvas and was of 'very high quality' too, the type of quality that couldn't possibly come from an understudy. Several other scholars and curators suggested that the work be attributed rightfully back to Rembrandt, to which the Allentown did without reluctance.
Rembrandt was a prolific artist. The kind of once-in-a-generation mind that inspires generations and geniuses alike. In the art world, attribution controversies are as common as they come, and it takes years for resolutions to occur. But, in the case of Rembrandt, a rightful resolve was made. Rembrandt was believed to have painted some 600 to 650 works in his celebrated lifetime. And his most famous one yet, the Portrait of a Young Woman, sits high in the prestigious catalog.
This was a surprisingly happy ending despite all the ways that this could've ended wrong and simply unjust. We can be thankful that all of Rembrandt's astonishing work received its justified accreditation, because who else would be responsible for such Rembrandian brilliance? If you enjoyed the article, please don't doubt in sharing it with your friends and art enthusiasts!