At Sotheby’s in London last December there was a lot of interest in a Rembrandt oil study from the so-called Face of Jesus group that had been in the same family for 60 years. The guaranteed work was covered with an irrevocable bid and estimated at between £6-8m. It sold for a £8.2m hammer price, or £9.48m with fees. We learned today that the buyer was the Louvre Abu Dhabi:
Louvre Abu Dhabi has acquired a rare oil sketch—Head of a young man, with clasped hands: Study of the figure of Christ, ca. 1648–56—by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), one of the most celebrated artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Painted on oak panel in the Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands) and identified as the Master’s work in the 1930s, it belongs to a series of oil sketches referred to as Rembrandt’s Face of Jesus group. Head of a young man was purchased by Louvre Abu Dhabi in December.
This masterpiece is the first work by Rembrandt known to have been acquired for a public collection in the Gulf region. It appeared recently in exhibitions at the Musée du Louvre, Paris; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Art; and Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam. It will make its first appearance at Louvre Abu Dhabi in the exhibition Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre before joining Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection.
The acquisition of this rare masterpiece follows the unveiling of 11 new additions to Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection in October 2018. In keeping with the museum’s mission to highlight cross-cultural connections in a variety of forms, last year’s acquisitions include a range of exquisite objects from around the world and the region, including a monumental Buddhist sculpture from China (11th-12th CE), four tapestries from French royal manufacturers depicting The Hunts of Maximilian, the Duke of Brabant, as well as a rare Ottoman horse armour (15th-16th CE).
Manuel Rabaté, Director, Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “Rembrandt was one of history of art’s greatest storytellers, with an exceptional ability to capture the human soul in his artworks. With this latest acquisition, the first ever Rembrandt joining a museum collection in the Gulf, our visitors can experience the power of his creations first-hand, initially in our opening exhibition for 2019 and following that in our galleries. It will join the 650 artworks of the museum’s collection from cultures around the world, celebrating the universal creativity of humanity”.
Dr. Souraya Noujaim, Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director, Louvre Abu Dhabi, added: “We make each new addition to Louvre Abu Dhabi’s expanding collection with great rigor and care, in order to deepen and enhance the museum’s universal narrative. This exceptional work reflects the new cultural perspectives that emerged during the Dutch Golden Age due to international trade expansion and exchange of ideas. It also demonstrates the great Master’s understanding of the fragility and intense spirituality of life, which inspired so many artists after him.”
The Dutch Golden Age was a brief period during the 17th century when the new Dutch merchant republic, freshly independent from the Spanish Crown, was regarded as the most prosperous state in Europe. Worldwide trade led by the Dutch East India Company, combined with military advancements and new developments in art and science, gave the Low Countries (the coastal region of northwestern Europe, consisting of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) an important advantage throughout Europe and the world. Major commissions brought Vermeer and Rembrandt to the forefront of a new artistic movement, in which Protestant workers developed new themes and iconographies depicting a more realistic daily life.
In Head of a young man, the face of the black-haired man seems to be both illuminated and rendered through large brushed gestures. The same model appears in a series of studies and works by Rembrandt that was created during the same period as the artist’s renowned Supper at Emmaus (Paris, Musée du Louvre, ca. 1648).
Head of a young man is one of the finest examples of Rembrandt’s seven surviving oil sketches from the Face of Jesus group. When viewed with the other surviving sketches, it reveals the way in which Rembrandt could find the best angle or profile to use light to portray Jesus “after life,” with the model probably coming from the local Jewish community.
The portrait and subject matter show a new representation in the Christian world. The clasped hands emphasise narrative not distinguishable at first glance. And Rembrandt chose to represent a man in prayer, rather than a king, expressing—in an ecumenical way—the humble humanity of man.
The exhibition Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre is co-curated by Blaise Ducos, Chief Curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings at the Musée du Louvre and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, Curator of The Leiden Collection and a specialist in 17th century Dutch and Flemish art. The exhibition will be on view from February 14 through May 18, 2019, at Louvre Abu Dhabi.