BOSTON (February 1, 2018)—Throughout the month of February, visitors at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), are able to witness firsthand the restoration of two portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn in the “Conservation in Action” gallery. The treatment of Portrait of a Woman with a Gold Chain (1634) is supported by a grant from The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), and the MFA has also committed to restoring its companion piece, Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat (1634). The works were the first paintings by the Dutch Golden Age master to enter a Boston museum’s collection when they were donated to the MFA in 1893.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to conserve these seminal paintings by Rembrandt, which normally have an important presence in our galleries,” said Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe. “Our hope is to gain a deeper understanding of these works, which were painted during an interesting, transitional and intense time in the artist’s career.”
As a young painter newly arrived in Amsterdam in late 1631 or early 1632, Rembrandt (1606–1669) rapidly gained fame for his portraits of wealthy Dutch citizens. Portrait of a Woman with a Gold Chain and Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat are pendants, a common device whereby a married couple is depicted in a pair of paintings meant to be hung near one another. The names of the sitters are unknown. The woman’s portrait in particular showcases Rembrandt’s precocious talent with its vivid representation of the sitter’s engaging personality and the dazzling rendering of her multi-layered lace collar and gold chain. The young artist’s technique was already daring—he scratched the highlights of his subject’s curly hair into the wet paint with the butt end of his brush. The man’s portrait shows him turning away from the light, throwing part of his face into shadow. This device normally animates the features, an effect that the restoration of the painting aims to recapture.
The two portraits have not been treated in approximately 50 years. Their paint surfaces are marred by passages of old retouching and layers of discolored varnish. Over the next year, Rhona MacBeth, Eijk and Rose-Marie van Otterloo Conservator of Paintings and Head of Paintings Conservation, will restore both portraits, carefully cleaning the surfaces to reveal the quality and beauty of Rembrandt’s brushwork for the first time in a generation. The restoration process, accompanied by an in-depth examination, provides the opportunity to uncover new information about how these paintings were made, and to share it with the public and scholarly colleagues.
“This is a project that curator Ronni Baer and I have been thinking about for quite some time. I am so delighted that we now have the opportunity to better understand these intriguing portraits, and that with treatment, we will be able to return their appearance to something much closer to how Rembrandt would have intended them to look,” said MacBeth.
In addition to watching the restoration process unfold in the gallery, visitors can check for progress updates on the “Conservation in Action” section of mfa.org, as well as on the Museum’s social media channels, which can be followed using #mfaConservation. A presentation about the project will also take place in March 2018 at TEFAF Maastricht in the Netherlands—the world’s leading fine art and antiques fair.
The TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund was set up in 2012 to help museums and institutions worldwide restore and conserve works of art in their collections. It is one of a selection of initiatives run by TEFAF that demonstrates the Foundation’s ongoing dedication to supporting and protecting cultural heritage.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, representing all cultures and time periods. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia; Art of Africa and Oceania; Art of the Ancient World; Prints and Drawings; Photography; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–10 pm. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25), while five Open Houses offer the opportunity to visit the Museum for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. For more information, call 617.267.9300, visit mfa.org or follow the MFA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.