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.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) Nicolaes Ruts
Oil on mahogany panel
The Frick Collection
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.