Rembrandt was always particularly interested in the representation of old people, particularly old men. As well as using models drawn from life in his drawings, etchings and paintings, he also represented such figures from memory and imagination, often in modelsheets for his pupils. This drawing comes from such a sheet with other sketches, indicated by the lines at the bottom right-hand corner, and also on the verso, which can be seen through the backing.
The drawing was first published by Otto Benesch in 1960 and later included by Eva Benesch in the second edition of his oeuvre catalogue (Benesch 240a). Benesch dated it to 1633-4, but the type and character of the head goes back to models from the Leiden period of circa 1630. A print from circa 1635, Head of an old bearded man in profile to the right (Bartsch 306) shows the same kind of model, although with a short beard. The style of this print points to a date in the mid-1630s. However, the execution of the profile with mouth open can be found in drawings from the Leiden period (Benesch 25 and Benesch 27), while the curls at the back of the head can also be compared (Benesch 27). The sketchy beard and the ear are similarly treated in early drawings and in prints (cf. Bartsch 304 and Bartsch 309). Further comparison can be made with Bartsch 306, cited above, from the mid-1630s, for example the interrupted contour of his bold head. If Benesch's date of 1633-4 is correct, Rembrandt may have drawn from memory a model used at an earlier date, using stylistic characteristics from that earlier period.
In addition to its distinguished 18th Century English provenance, the drawing belonged to Edward Vernon Utterson (1777-1856). Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he was called to the Bar in 1802. In 1807 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and he was well known for his excellent taste and collection of books, drawings and prints. A large group of Rembrandt etchings were sold by Utterson at Christie's, London, 17 February 1848, lots 34-101, and drawings by Rembrandt, lots 102-136. Over fifty sheets were included, many of them recorded as from Sir Joshua Reynold's collection, and several of heads, but the descriptions are too cursory to enable this drawing to be specifically identified.
We are grateful to Peter Schatborn for his help in cataloguing this drawing.