Rembrandt's Portrait of a Man, painted in 1658, was first documented in 1847 at an exhibition at the British Institution, but it did not receive any critical attention until after its sale in London more than eighty years later. The art historian Tancred Borenius, writing in The Burlington Magazine shortly after the sale, hailed the portrait as 'undoubtedly one of the most notable additions made for a long time to the list of Rembrandt's extant works', remarking on its 'absolutely perfect condition', its 'simplified and effective, monumental character' and the 'extraordinarily constructive power of the master's brushwork'. His view was echoed a few months later in the same publication by the Rembrandt scholar Wilhelm R. Valentiner, who considered it as 'the largest and most impressive among the rediscovered paintings ... quite in the style of the monumental self-portrait executed by Rembrandt in 1658' (New York, The Frick Collection; see fig.1); and, in America, The Antiquarian deemed it 'one of the great artist's masterpieces'. The portrait was subsequently recorded by Bredius (1935), Bauch (1966) and Gerson (1968), and its place within the Rembrandt canon was assured. Nevertheless, having remained hidden from public view and unavailable to scholars since 1970, the Portrait of a Man has been largely ignored in more recent literature on the artist and it remains relatively unknown today.
Having thus far evaded the intense scrutiny of modern Rembrandt research, the Portrait of a Man has recently been subjected to extensive scientific analysis for the first time, the findings of which are included in this entry. Furthermore, the picture has been examined by Professor Ernst van de Wetering, chairman of the Rembrandt Research Project, who had never before had the opportunity to examine it in person. His unequivocal endorsement of Rembrandt's authorship re-asserts this picture's standing as one of the artist's most striking late portraits, painted during one of his most inventive artistic phases and yet, at the same time, one of the most turbulent periods in his personal life. Admiring particularly the manner of Rembrandt's execution and his mastery his mastery of light, Van de Wetering summarised thus:
'One of the most striking qualities of this painting throughout is the remarkably intelligent and sensitive dealing with delicate light effects and the dosage of the light. It would take a long analytical argument to provide insight into all these finesses. Judged after my long experience with Rembrandt, this painting is in that respect one of Rembrandt's masterpieces'. (Private correspondence, May 2009).
The late 1650s were extremely difficult years for Rembrandt, despite the enormous success and fame he had achieved in the 1630s and 1640s. His revenue had declined considerably in the 1640s due to the lack of demand for portrait commissions or, as is more likely, his refusal to accept them. He started to refocus on portraiture in the mid-1650s, presumably in an effort to boost his income, and some of the most celebrated of all his male portraits originate from this time, including Nicolaes Bruynigh, dated 1652 (Kassel, Gemäldegalerie), and Jan Six (Amsterdam, Six Foundation) and Floris Soop (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), both painted in 1654. However, after years of financial mismanagement and overspending, Rembrandt was declared bankrupt in 1656. His extensive art collection - one of the main causes of his insolvency - was gradually auctioned off in the years 1656 to 1658 and in February 1658 he was finally forced to sell his house in the Sint Anthonisbreestraat, where he had lived and worked since 1639, and move across Amsterdam to a smaller rented property in the Jordaan.
Beset by this upheaval, it is not surprising that Rembrandt's output in the late 1650s was relatively limited. Only two other dated works from 1658 are known: a small mythological scene, Philemon and Baucis (Washington, National Gallery of Art), and the magnificent Self-Portrait (New York, The Frick Collection), in which Rembrandt shows himself at his most magisterial despite the enormous strain he was under. Valentiner notes that at this time the artist hardly ever received portrait commissions (1956, loc. cit.), and it is true that with the exception of Catherina Hooghsaet, who sat to Rembrandt in 1657 for the picture now at Penrhyn Castle, there is no other commissioned portrait extant from the years 1657 to 1659. Given Rembrandt's financial position he would no doubt have welcomed more commissions. However, it seems probable that the majority of prospective patrons were put off by his increasingly expressive style of painting in a period when aesthetic taste now favoured smoothness and elegance.
Comparison with the Penrhyn picture shows just how far removed the present work is from the constraints of a formal commission, raising the question as to whether the sitter actually charged Rembrandt with painting it or whether he was chosen by the artist as a model for picturesque reasons. Irrespective of the nature of the commission, the model's highly individualized features and the direct manner of the execution indicate that he was painted from life. The man's identity is unknown. He was described simply as A Dutch Admiral when the picture was first recorded at the British Institution exhibition of 1847, a title that alluded to his commanding presence but has no seventeenth-century foundation. In 1956 Valentiner suggested he might be the lawyer Louis Craeyers, based on the fact that Craeyers was named as guardian to the artist's son Titus on 4 April 1658, but there is nothing in the picture to suggest the man is a lawyer and this idea has not gained any support (loc. cit.). The sitter is in his prime, perhaps in his mid-thirties, solidly built, with undeniably handsome, patrician looks. Van de Wetering sees him probably as a visitor to Amsterdam, perhaps of Mediterranean origin. His clothes appear to have little to do with contemporary fashion, suggesting to Marieke de Winkel that they belong with the sort of fanciful, antique costumes that Rembrandt used for his history pieces and in many of his self-portraits (verbal communication). The hat is of the type worn so often by Rembrandt himself to heighten the 'antique' effect of his portraits, while the round-necked chemise and the short, open doublet with a sash around the waist, recall the costumes worn by sitters in Venetian cinquecento portraiture. This use of historical costume evokes a timeless quality that, as De Winkel has demonstrated in relation to the self-portraits, was linked to Rembrandt's ambition to cast himself and his art within the tradition of the great Old Masters of the past - of Dürer, Raphael and Titian (see M. de Winkel, 'Costumes in Rembrandt's Self Portraits', in the exhibition catalogue, Rembrandt by Himself, London, National Gallery; and The Hague, Mauritshuis, June 1999-January 2000, pp. 60-74).
Rembrandt's interest in Italian art is well documented. The unquestionably Italian character of the Portrait of a Man was first mentioned by Borenius who drew attention to its relationship with Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (Paris, Musée du Louvre; see fig. 2), a picture that Rembrandt saw at the time of its auction in Amsterdam in 1639: 'I hope it is not fanciful to find in the picture a reminiscence of the rise and fall of the quiet and monumental silhouette of Castiglione' (T. Borenius, op. cit., p. 54). Rembrandt made a pen and ink drawing of the Raphael there and then (Vienna, Albertina; see fig. 3) and his use of it for the self-portraits of 1639 (in etching) and 1640 (London, The National Gallery) gives an idea of the considerable impact Raphael's masterpiece had on him. If the spirit of the Castiglione portrait can indeed be felt in the present work, and the connection seems anything but fanciful, the influence of Titian can be felt in equal measure. In the second half of the 1650s Rembrandt's interest in Titian appeared to reach new heights and most of his single figure pictures from these years have at one time or another elicited comparison with the Venetian master: for example, Flora (circa 1654; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Hendrickje Stoffels (circa 1654-9; London, The National Gallery); Woman at an open door (circa 1656-7; Berlin, Gemäldegalerie), Titus (circa 1657, London, The Wallace Collection); and the 1658 Self-Portrait (New York, The Frick Collection).
The frontal pose adopted by the present figure echoes that often found in Titian's portraiture and John Maxon, former Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, pointed to its affinities with the 1558 Portrait of Fabrizio Salvaresio (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; see fig. 4), a picture formerly in the collection of Archduke Leopold in Brussels that Rembrandt could have seen through plates for David Teniers' Theatrum Pictorium, released in proof form in 1658 (see catalogue of the exhibition, Rembrandt after Three Hundred Years, 1969-1970, p. 38, no. 13). It is not only the composition of this portrait and character of the sitter that strike the viewer as Titianesque, but also the manner of its painting. The strong use of light, the earthen palette with crimson highlights and, above all, the vigorous, broad application of paint, all speak of Titian's late style.
The powerful impact this picture makes on the viewer owes much to the frontal pose adopted by the sitter and his defiant air. He stands before the artist with an unflinching gaze, hands on hips, chest out, in a display of commanding self-assurance. The pose, as first pointed out by Valentiner (1930, op. cit., p. 260), also recalls that used by the artist himself a few years earlier for one of his most assertive self-portraits (1652; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; see fig. 5), for which there is a closely related drawing showing the artist in full-length (Amsterdam, Museum het Rembrandthuis). The figure's right hand, which is clenched and in shadow in the Vienna picture, is here given prominence, with the fingers extended, in a manner that further enhances the forceful nature of the pose. The rapid, sketch-like rendering of the hand is a bravura display of painting that offers a contrast to the minutely observed details of the face.
The effect of the sitter's grandeur is heightened by the monumental way in which he fills the picture space and the inventive use of light, which defines the form of the figure and the space around it. The play of light became an ongoing preoccupation for Rembrandt in the 1650s and here, as in the Vienna picture, he chose to light the figure almost directly from the left side. 'Such deliberations are typical for Rembrandt', Van de Wetering observes, where in this case 'the choice seems to have had to do with the most refined solutions as to the lighting of the figure'. However, where in the Vienna picture the entire right side of the figure is cast into shadow, the torso is here turned slightly to the right, enabling the light to catch the back of the left arm, thereby giving more definition to the shape of the body and lending an added sense of dynamism to the composition as a whole.
Rembrandt clearly contended with other factors in resolving the overall design of the composition. Comparison with the x-radiograph of the picture reveals that several changes were made in the course of painting (see fig. 6). For instance, adjustments were made to the shape of the beret, the outline of the left shoulder and right arm. A condition report on the painting, prepared by R.M.S. Shepherd Associates, notes that 'the radiograph shows areas of paint which were later covered as the composition evolved. Rembrandt established some things early on in the course of executing this work, leaving areas reserved for certain features, whilst modifying others to refine the end result. The x-radiograph shows no uncertainty or lack of clarity; only definite changes of particular features' (condition report available on request). The x-radiograph suggested to Van de Wetering that the canvas may be trimmed at the lower and left edges although the losses may only be slight.
By 1658 Rembrandt's execution had become increasingly bold and complex. In the Portrait of a Man he achieved infinitely subtle effects of light, colour and texture by the use of continuously varied combinations of paint, made up from just a few pigments, that were applied layer upon layer until he was satisfied with the result. This elaborate paint structure is manifest both in the face, which is observed with remarkable sensitivity, and also in the doublet, where sweeping brushstrokes have been used to render its form. Van de Wetering takes the view that 'the looseness of this brushwork, in part seemingly governed by chance, is typical of the late Rembrandt. It is at the same time characterized by a specific [to Rembrandt] mixture of freedom and control'.
This new expressive style of painting was out of step with the contemporary taste for elegance and refinement and must have left Rembrandt in a strangely isolated position within the Amsterdam artistic community. No doubt he also suffered from the perception that his 'rough' painting style and his reversal in fortune went hand in hand. Nevertheless, apparently undaunted by popular taste, Rembrandt continued to paint in an uncompromising manner that would become increasingly radical in his output from the 1660s. In the face of his mounting difficulties and his apparent fall from grace, the Portrait of a Man stands as a defiant statement of Rembrandt's genius as a portraitist.
The first recorded owner of the Portrait of a Man was George Folliott (1801-1851), the second son of William Harwood Folliott, of Chester and Stapeley House, Nantwich, by his wife, Catherine, daughter and heiress of John Burcoe of Stapeley. George Folliott married Dorothea Elizabeth, daughter of W.J. Moore, of Dublin, and evidently acquired the estate of Vicars Cross, on the outskirts of Chester. According to Borenius, he added a top-lit gallery to his house to accommodate his collection, in which the Rembrandt was hung as 'primus inter pares'. Folliott died at the age of fifty, bequeathing his collection to his daughter, Mrs E.I.E. Folingsby Walker. It was under her and her son's direction that the Old Master pictures were sold at Sotheby's in London on 14 May 1930. The sale included thirty-eight of their pictures comprising a broad range of Dutch landscapes, works from the Rembrandt school, and Italian view paintings. The Rembrandt was offered as lot 51, selling for £18,500 to the London dealers Asscher and Welker. The Rembrandt was not the only picture of note in the group. The sale also included the great Holbein Portrait of Lady Guilford (catalogued as 'Flemish School - Portrait of Elizabeth Bullen'), now in the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri, and also Bernardo Bellotto's View of the Tiber with the Castel Sant Angelo, Rome (sold as 'Canaletto'), now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Unfortunately the provenances for these works provide no further clues as to the earlier history of the Rembrandt.
By 1939 the Portrait of a Man had been bought by the Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) supermarket heir, George Huntington Hartford II (see fig. 7), for a reputed $185,000. Huntington Hartford was born into one of the wealthiest families in America and was the principal heir to what was once the largest retail empire in the world. In 1950 the business had a revenue of $2.7 billion. Despite inheriting an immense fortune, Hartford gained notoriety by proceeding to spend it on a series of quixotic commercial and artistic ventures and a number of costly divorces. His most ambitious and ultimately ill-fated artistic scheme was the creation of his own museum in Manhattan. In the late 1950s he commissioned the architect Edward Durrell Stone to construct a ten storey building at Columbus Circle (now known as the Lollipop building), designed to show his art collection that was made up primarily of Impressionist, Pre-Raphaelite and Surrealist artists. By New York standards, his taste was conservative and out of step with the current vogue for abstract expressionism. He owned works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Millais, Burne-Jones and Salvador Dalí, while making very public his dislike of De Kooning and Picasso. The project proved unpopular and he abandoned it after only a few years.
The Portrait of a Man, which Hartford considered 'the greatest Rembrandt portrait I have ever seen' was never displayed in his museum, but was instead donated in 1958 to Columbia University. According to a file in the Frick Collection Archives, the picture was intended for ultimate sale to support research in the Department of Neurology, College of Physicians and Surgeons. Such a spectacularly generous gesture was not uncommon for Hartford. The portrait was displayed in the president's office until students occupied it during a demonstration in 1968, after which the picture went into storage for safekeeping. The buyer was the New York dealer Harold Diamond who paid an undisclosed sum reported to have been in excess of $1 million. It was acquired in the same year by the present owner.