'Fake' Rembrandt painting will return to wall of Oxford museum

A tiny painting long rejected as a 'fake' Rembrandt and consigned to a museum basement for 30 years will go back on display at an Oxford gallery after its oak panel was dated to the same tree used in his workshop in 1630.

The approximately 6in by 5in Head of a Bearded Man (c. 1630), a study in oils, was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by British art dealer Percy Moore Turner in 1951 and entered the collection as an early Rembrandt.

It was dismissed by the Amsterdam-based Rembrandt Research Project, the world's top authority on the Dutch artist, in 1982 as a phoney rip-off painted in Rembrandt's style by an imitator in the late 17th century - long after the master's death. 

The Project said in its report at the time that the brushwork was 'too free' and 'moreover chaotic' to be attributed to Rembrandt or a member of his inner circle.

Curators then consigned Head of a Bearded Man, which shows a elderly balding man in melancholy contemplation, to the Ashmolean's basement for three decades. 

Head of a Bearded Man (c. 1630) was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by British art dealer Percy Moore Turner in 1951 and entered the collection as an early Rembrandt

Head of a Bearded Man (c. 1630) was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford by British art dealer Percy Moore Turner in 1951 and entered the collection as an early Rembrandt

Museum curators re-examined the artwork with  dendrochronologist Professor Peter Klein, who established that the wood panel on which it is painted comes from the same tree used for two paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Lievens when the artists were working in Leiden

Museum curators re-examined the artwork with  dendrochronologist Professor Peter Klein, who established that the wood panel on which it is painted comes from the same tree used for two paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Lievens when the artists were working in Leiden

But ahead of the museum's Young Rembrandt exhibition, curator An Van Camp and conservators Jevon Thistlewood and Morwenna Blewett brought it out of the stores to re-examine it with the help of Professor Peter Klein, a dendrochronologist.

Prof Klein established that the wood panel on which it is painted comes from the same tree felled in the Baltic region used for two paintings by friends and collaborators Rembrandt and Jan Lievens when the artists were working in Leiden. 

Tree rings revealed that it was felled between 1618 and 1628 and that the seasoned wood would have ready for use two years later. 

The Ashmolean has now incorporated the painting into its Young Rembrandt exhibition, which looks at Rembrandt's first decade at work from 1624-34, confident in the knowledge that it came from Rembrandt's workshop. 

The postcard-sized artwork will be on view to the public until November 1, after which it will undergo further study and conservation in the Ashmolean's labs to determine whether there is evidence of Rembrandt's own hand in the painting. 

The Ashmolean in Oxford (pictured) has now incorporated the painting into its Young Rembrandt exhibition, which looks at Rembrandt's first decade at work from 1624-34, confident in the knowledge that it came from Rembrandt's workshop

The Ashmolean in Oxford (pictured) has now incorporated the painting into its Young Rembrandt exhibition, which looks at Rembrandt's first decade at work from 1624-34, confident in the knowledge that it came from Rembrandt's workshop

Saskia with the red flower, 1641. Found in the Collection of Dresden State Art Collections

1660. Oil on canvas, 22.6 x 18.7 cm. Located in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Left: Saskia with the red flower, 1641. Found in the Collection of Dresden State Art Collections. Right: 1660. Oil on canvas, 22.6 x 18.7 cm. Located in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Ms Van Camp joined the museum in 2015, and became aware of the small painting that 'no one wanted to talk about because it was this fake Rembrandt'. 

Speaking to The Guardian, she revealed that she'd always doubted the painting was a fake, and jumped at the opportunity to re-examine the art for the exhibit.

'It is what Rembrandt does,' she said. 'He does these tiny head studies of old men with forlorn, melancholic, pensive looks. 

'It is very typical of what Rembrandt does in Leiden around 1630

The museum's curator of northern European art

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