The Frick Collection
Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and  Lugt Collections February 15, 2011, through May 15, 2011
Special Exhibition

Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and
Lugt Collections

February 15, 2011, through May 15, 2011

Partial Show Extension: Works on loan from the Lugt Collection will remain on view in the Lower-Level Exhibition Galleries through May 22. See a Virtual Tour of the paintings in the Oval Room.

Checklist of Paintings Acquired by Henry Clay Frick

See a Virtual Tour of the paintings in the Oval Room.

Nicolaes Ruts   Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Nicolaes Ruts
Oil on mahogany panel

The fifty-eight-year-old Mennonite merchant Nicolaes Ruts (1573–1638) emerges confidently from a neutral background, draped in a fine sable-lined gown known as a tabbaard, an old-fashioned article of clothing associated with learning and tradition. In his left hand, he holds a piece of paper whose handwriting is illegible, but on which the date of 1631, although upside down, is clearly visible.

Rembrandt's imposing effigy of this Amsterdam fur trader, whose business was based in the Russian colony at Arkhangel'sk, is generally considered his earliest commissioned portrait and one that helped launch his career, the artist having moved from Leiden to Amsterdam that very year. The unusual support of mahogany, a wood uncommon in seventeenth-century Europe, may have been provided by the sitter himself. Rembrandt uses it to good effect in applying his brushstrokes in a painstakingly fine and smooth manner to create a seamless illusion of fabric and fur. For the powerfully modeled face, in which Ruts's intense gaze and furrowed brow suggest the weight of his responsibilities, Rembrandt juxtaposed multiple layers of varying colors to create a dignified and sympathetic representation. Ironically, Ruts seems not to have been the most successful of businessmen; he filed for bankruptcy in 1638. It is quite possible that Rembrandt's portrait was commissioned by Ruts's daughter Susanna, who, with her husband, ran a thriving business as merchants in Amsterdam.

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Self-Portrait   Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Oil on canvas

In a final pitch the art dealer Charles Carstairs, head of Knoedler's London office, dispatched a breathless letter to Frick on November 23, 1906: "I have pictured it in your gallery since first beginning negotiations for it four months ago. It is the greatest single portrait existing and…is a portrait of Rembrandt himself. It is most powerful, grand, monumental. If only you could see the picture over your mantel, dominating the entire gallery, just as you dominate those you come into contact with…."

This is the largest of Rembrandt's many self-portraits, painted when he was fifty-two years old. The paint is applied thickly in rich layers, with broken surfaces, highlights, and glazes that confirm how carefully thought out Rembrandt's "rough manner" was. Executed during a period of constraint and adversity, at a time when Rembrandt had declared bankruptcy, and was obliged to sell his vast collections, this magisterial self-portrait presents the aging artist in historical and exotic costume. Rembrandt portrays himself in a golden-yellow pleated jerkin, worn over a linen shirt, fastened diagonally. An ornamental neck cloth is tucked into the front of the jerkin, and a red sash is wound twice around his waist. In his left hand, the artist holds a silver-tipped jointed rattan cane. Rembrandt is not shown working but attired in sixteenth-century costume that would have conjured associations with artists of the Northern Renaissance. Yet the poignancy of the artist's representation of himself remains. As was noted when the painting was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1909, "it is the head of an old lion at bay, worn and melancholy, yet conscious of his strength, determined and a little defiant."

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The Polish Rider   Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
The Polish Rider
Oil on canvas

Rembrandt's painting of a youthful long-haired rider in Polish dress, armed with two swords, a war hammer, and a quiver of arrows, remains one of his most haunting works. The serene, open expression of the rider contrasts with the barren, unforgiving nocturnal terrain through which he and the horse proceed at some speed. In the more thinly painted background, we can make out a domed citadel with fortified buildings atop a hill and at right a ridge of trees leading down to a tower that overlooks a pool at whose edge a fire burns faintly.

The young man's red fur-lined cap, or kuczma, and his long riding coat, known as a joupane, were of the kind worn by Polish (and Hungarian) light cavalry officers during the seventeenth century, but their significance is hard to assess. Not a commissioned equestrian portrait, this painting seems to belong to the realm of myth or allegory, and the subject has been interpreted as a "glorification of youthful courage and dedication to a worthy end," with the young warrior identified as a latter-day crusader or Christian knight.

Rembrandt's handling and the degree to which he finished all areas of his composition have been much debated. Sections such as the horse's neck, harness, and bit and the rider's face, jacket, and weapons are described in meticulous detail. Other areas, such as the sky and buildings in the background, the landscape, and the horse's legs and hindquarters are sketchier in appearance. It has been suggested that The Polish Rider may have been an unfinished composition, brought rapidly to completion by Rembrandt — or another artist — so that the work might be included in one of the artist's bankruptcy sales that were organized in 1656–57.

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Old Woman with a Book   Carel van der Pluym (1625–1672)
Old Woman with a Book
c. mid-1650s
Oil on canvas

An elderly woman with a pensive gaze rests her left hand on a large bound book, which she has just closed. This pious figure is dressed in a fur jacket, voluminous red skirt, and turban-like head covering and is possibly meant to represent the Old Testament prophetess Hannah, who was barren until she gave birth to the prophet Samuel. During the eighteenth century the sitter was thought to be Rembrandt's mother; when Frick acquired the picture in 1916, it was entitled Woman with a Bible.

Although the painting was catalogued as by Rembrandt in the historic 1898 exhibition, Dutch connoisseurs had already then expressed doubts over the painting's authorship, a controversy of which Frick seemed unaware when he purchased the work. Informed in October 1916 by the art historian and curator Abraham Bredius that his Rembrandt was in fact by Carel van der Pluym, "one of his minor pupils," Frick replied in an unusually forthright manner: "To my mind it is one of the finest Rembrandts in existence, and every visitor to my gallery, without exception, pays particular attention to it and grows enthusiastic over it."

Bredius encouraged Frick to compare his picture to Old Man in a Fur Cap, a signed work by van der Pluym then in a collection in New York and today in The Art Institute of Chicago. Both works share an autumnal palette; both are executed in a vigorous technique, with the sketchy, but labored, delineation of drapery and the somewhat clumsily painted hands. Van der Pluym, who was named guardian of Rembrandt's son, Titus, in 1665, had probably studied with Rembrandt in the late 1640s and continued to produce paintings in his master's "rough manner" in the 1650s, the decade in which Old Woman with a Book was most likely executed.

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Portrait of a Young Artist   Follower of Rembrandt van Rijn
Portrait of a Young Artist
Oil on canvas

Most likely a work produced in Amsterdam in the 1650s by an artist whose identity is still to be discovered, this fine portrait shows a fashionable young man in a black cloak, a gold embroidered shirt, and an imposing hat. He holds a paintbrush between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and cradles his sketchbook, or album, with both hands in front of him. A pile of paintbrushes is placed on the cloth-covered table in the background at left, and on the cover of the album it is possible to make out the face and upraised arm of a figure — a drawn or etched image in preparation perhaps for the painting on which he is to embark. Interrupted by the viewer, whom he engages directly, the young artist is portrayed in the throes of absorbing his source material and reflecting on his work.

Thought in the eighteenth century to be Rembrandt's portrait of the artist Leonaert Bramer (1596–1674), the painting retained its attribution to Rembrandt until the 1940s, when examination of its handling and technique led scholars to place the work in Rembrandt's orbit, painted by an artist eager to approximate the master's style. The rapid execution of the gold buttons that have little shape or volume, the unblended paint in the face, and the summary modeling of the hands point to an artist who had not fully mastered certain effects that were a hallmark of Rembrandt's mature manner. More competent passages such as the swiftly painted embellishment of the hat, the loose gray and white strokes of the album, and the confident folds of the cape suggest, however, that the author was an experienced and practiced painter, and probably no longer a student.

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Principal funding for the exhibition is provided by The Christian Humann Foundation, Jean-Marie and Elizabeth Eveillard, and Melvin R. Seiden.

Corporate support is provided by Fiduciary Trust Company International.

The exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The catalogue is made possible by the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc. It is also underwritten, in part, by public funds from the Netherlands Cultural Services and by the Netherland-America Foundation.