Laura Houliston, Senior Curator at English Heritage, on her favorite object from the collection
His was ingenious with his techniques, in his etchings and paintings, and if you look closely you can see details such as scratched lines into the wet paint surface, and there is the thick, wide strokes of lead white paint for his linen cap.
Rembrandt painted this in the last years of his life, when you may imagine he was at his most successful and financially secure, but, amazingly, the opposite was true. He had lost his money, his wife, his mistress, and was employed by his son, but he still continued to produce a great number of exciting artworks at this time.
An interesting fact about this piece is that an X-ray of the painting shows that Rembrandt began by showing himself in a different stance. He was previously at an angle, rather than directly facing the viewer. The impact of the painting would have been completely different if he had shown himself actively painting.
This portrait forms part of Lord Iveagh’s collection, and he purchased it in 1888 from a dealer in London, at a time when he was collecting many high-quality old master paintings. This painting came to Kenwood for public display in 1928. The collection at Kenwood has an abundance of beautiful paintings, many by famous artists, and visitors really enjoy being able to see them in this historic setting.
I keep returning to this painting, year after year, and never tire of looking at it. I like his clever use of light and his lack of detail in the lower section of the painting around the area of his hands. While they’re mostly in shadow, I am always drawn in by his eyes.