The final volume—number 6—of the Rembrandt Research Project came out this week capping the life’s work of Ernst van der Wetering and allowing him to right what he perceived to be as wrongs made early on. One work owned by the Met, The Auctioneer, above, is restored as a Rembrandt even though the museum remains unconvinced:
In the volume, Mr. van de Wetering revisits previous conclusions by the project, which began in 1968. In its early decades, a team of experts including Mr. van de Wetering made group decisions that “deattributed” many Rembrandts, advocating removal of the artist’s authorship. Among the 70 attribution changes in Volume 6, Mr. van de Wetering, now making the decisions himself, restores 44 of those deattributions to Rembrandt. He now describes the project’s “democratic” decisions as “unjust.” […]
The number of accepted Rembrandts has fluctuated dramatically over the last century, peaking at 714 in the 1920s, according to Rembrandt scholar Gary Schwartz. The number fell below 300 in the 1980s thanks to the deattributions of the early volumes of the Rembrandt Research Project. Mr. van de Wetering sees his recent work as a reaction against the “reductionist” tendencies of the Rembrandt project in its earlier days as well as decisions made by experts at leading museums, like the Met.
Mr. van de Wetering is both a trained artist and an art historian. An occasional dissenting voice in the early decades of the Rembrandt project, he took over as head in 1992. While still relying on advice from a field of experts, he turned the project into a vehicle for his own opinions in volumes 4 and 5, which covered thematic aspects of Rembrandt’s work. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s most respected authorities on Rembrandt. Funders of the project have included the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research and the University of Amsterdam.