This painting is a copy of Rembrandt's Self portrait in a black cap (oil on panel, 63 x 50.7 cm) of around 1637 in the Wallace Collection, London. The relationship between the Wallace collection painting and the present work is unclear. There are interesting similarities and marked differences, both of which are complicated by the heavy layer of discolored varnish that covers the surface of this panel.
Dendrochronological examination of the present painting has shown that the wood originated in the Baltic region (examination by Peter Klein, 8 February 2008). The earliest possible felling date for the tree is 1591, making the earliest date for the creation of the panel 1597. X-radiography and Infrared Reflectography have revealed that, as with the Wallace Collection painting, the panel seems to have been reused, perhaps more than once. There appear to be two separate images, perhaps a landscape and a portrait, beneath the image of the Rembrandt self portrait. Martin Bijl has noted that the upper layers of paint seem to have been applied at a later date (personal communication, 16 February 2008).
Two copies of the Wallace Collection painting are known. The first (oil on panel, 63 x 50 cm.), in a private collection in Lugano as of 1983, bears a Rembrandt signature and is indistinctly dated 1637 (see J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, IV, 1992, p. 287, no. P52). Dendrochronology indicates that this panel was made from a tree felled between 1750 and 1770. The second copy of the Self portrait in a black cap (oil on panel, 63.5 x 48.2 cm.) is in the John Paul II collection in Warsaw. It too bears a Rembrandt signature and date but does not appear in either the Corpus or Hofstede de Groot.
Both the Lugano and the Warsaw panels are smaller than the present painting and the discrepancy in the felling dates between the Lugano painting and the current work discount any relationship between them. Ingamells suggests that the Lugano panel is the painting that appeared in the Duke of Hamilton sale in 1882 (Christie's, London, 17-20 July 1882, lot 29). The sale catalogue, however, lists the dimensions of the Hamilton painting as 26 x 21 in., or 66 x 53.3 cm., larger than the Lugano painting and the same size as the present work. While it is clear that the Lugano panel is not the painting that appeared in the Duke of Hamilton sale, the relationship between the painting sold in 1882 and the painting in this sale is unclear. Until further evidence of either a technical or a documentary nature is unearthed, however, a relationship between them cannot be discounted.
We would like to thank Martin Bijl and Prof. Dr. Peter Klein for their examination of this painting and for providing the information for this catalogue note.