By Tessa Solomon
For 30 years, a painting of a long bridge at twilight in Amsterdam was credited to Rembrandt’s studio. But new findings have reclaimed the landscape as an authentic work by the Dutch master.
Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Rembrandts, announced the discovery this week, effectively overturning a prior conclusion made by the Rembrandt Research Project on its attribution.
The Gemäldegalerie acquired Landscape with Arched Bridge in 1924, when it was attributed to Rembrandt. The work came from the private holdings of Friedrich August II, the last Duke of Oldenburg, whose prodigious art collection was sold off after the abolishment of the German monarchy.
Like many of Rembrandt’s innovative landscapes, it depicts the Dutch countryside dramatically lit by sunlight and shadow. The museum hailed the acquisition as closing an important gap in the narrative it presents about Rembrandt.
In the late 1980s, the Rembrandt Research Project, comprised of Dutch art historians who judge by consensus the authenticity of Rembrandts worldwide, reattributed Landscape with Arched Bridge to Rembrandt’s student Govert Flinck. Defending their decision, they cited the painting’s “astonishingly far-reaching stylistic, technical, and thematic similarities” to an earlier Rembrandt, Landscape with Stone Bridge, which is held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
In other words, they thought it was a conspicuous attempt to replicate a Rembrandt, like a forger tracing a signature.
Determined to restore the Berlin painting’s attribution, the Gemäldegalerie utilized technological advancements in painting analysis to evaluate the age and application of the paint. Researchers determined it was painted prior to the Amsterdam landscape, explaining the latter work’s more sophisticated manipulation of light.
Rembrandt also returned to the Gemäldegalerie work several times to revise the composition and color, settling on a denser atmosphere. By contrast, the Amsterdam painting is more precise and the sunlight more thickly painted, implying that the worst of the storm has passed.
Decisively attributing a work to Rembrandt is often a contentious task. He had a large workshop and a titanic visual impact on European painting, inspiring numerous imitators. It’s common for a presumed Rembrandt to have its authenticity stripped and then later restored.
In 2020, a 400-year-old portrait in the collection of the Allentown Art Museum first credited to the Old Master, then in the 1970s reattributed to Rembrandt’s studio, was determined to have been executed by the Dutch painter.
A century ago, some 700 paintings were attributed to Rembrandt, but by the late 1960s the Rembrandt Research Project had downgraded that number by nearly half. Institutions including the National Gallery in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have faced challenges to the authenticity of presumed Rembrandts in their collections. In the case of the Met, the labels of two work—Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman—were updated to read “From the workshop of Rembrandt.”
Independent Rembrandt historians have opposed the project’s validating system and its resistance to outside opinions. Today, the group’s energy is devoted to developing a comprehensive catalogue of Rembrandt’s oeuvre. Most major art institutions now have their own team of researchers.
Despite his influence on the genre, Rembrandt painted few landscapes. The reattribution of the Berlin painting brings the number of known landscapes by the artist to seven. Landscape with Arched Bridge is currently on display in the exhibition “David Hockney – Landscapes in Dialogue,” which includes Hockney’s series “Three Trees near Thixendale.
Together, Hockney and the restored Rembrandt create a “striking conversation,” according to the Gemäldegalerie.
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By Tessa Solomon