Thursday, November 13, 2008

All the Rembrandts in L.A.


Five museums have debuted a lavish, Getty-sponsored on-line exhibition, "Rembrandt in Southern California." Check it out, and don't miss the Wikipedia entry on the exhibition (that's right, an encyclopedia article about a web site about Rembrandt). It tells an amusing pre-history of Rembrandt in Southern California: the fakes donated with great fanfare to the unsuspecting County Museum and UCLA. The Wikipedia article also features Bernard Safran's cool Time magazine cover of Norton Simon with Titus.
The on-line exhibition offers the organizers' take on attribution controversies. They give thumbs up to the Norton Simon's Self-Portrait; eighty-six the Huntington Library's Lady With a Plume.
A few years back, the Rembrandt Research Project decided that the Norton Simon's "Self-Portrait" was of Rembrandt, not by him. The RRP theorized it was the work of Rembrandt's celebrated student Carel Fabritus. Neither Simon nor his curators ever accepted that verdict. The painting is labeled a Rembrandt, not "attributed to," and there is no mention of the RRP's dissenting opinion in the museum's gallery text. I know the RRP hasn't lived up to expectations of being the last word in Rembrandt attributions. Has its stock really fallen so low that you don't even have to explain why you reject its opinion? It's not like Pasadena is the undisputed center of Rembrandt connoisseurship.
Anyway, the "Rembrandt in Southern California" consortium says the Simon painting is probably an unfinished autograph Rembrandt completed by someone else (like the Polish Rider, you might say). I'll take that diagnosis over the RRP's -- not that they're so incompatible after all.
The Huntington Lady, once in the princely Liechtenstein collection, was long an unquestioned Rembrandt. Then it was downgraded to a studio work. Recently the Huntington has partly revived the attribution, calling it "Rembrandt and Studio." They still have some convincing to do. The "Rembrandt in Southern California" site doesn't mention it.
It does accepts as genuine the fetching swagger portrait of a Man Holding a Black Hat at the Hammer. I'm not aware of anyone doubting it, but it hasn't been available to general inspection until recently. With Armand Hammer buying, you never know.
The current census: 12 Rembrandts in L.A. County collections, one in San Diego, plus that Girl on long-term loan to the Getty.

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