Last week at the Frick Collection in upper Manhattan, H. Perry Chapman, Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware and author of Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Identity, presented “Rembrandt & Dou: Rivalry in Self-Portrayal.” In a riveting one-hour lecture, Professor Chapman argued that Rembrandt and his first pupil, Gerrit Dou, were forever aware of and informed by each other’s distinct and diverging artistic styles—Rembrandt, rough and expressive; Dou, fine and polished—particularly while painting their self-portraits. Among the numerous self-portraits Professor Chapman cited in her discussion (around 60 survive by Rembrandt, 12 by Dou), the Brooklyn Museum’s Portrait of a Young Man (Self-Portrait?) was among the smallest but for many the most surprising.
Recently discussed in the New York Times as a rediscovered treasure, Brooklyn’s tiny portrait—its oak panel support measures only 6 x 5 inches—entered the Museum’s collection in 1932 as an early self-portrait, completed by Dou in Leiden around 1631 when he was 18 and training under Rembrandt. (Rembrandt would leave Leiden later that year for greener, richer pastures in Amsterdam.) Several decades later, in the early 1990s, opinions about the painting, the painter, and the sitter shifted. Scholars demoted Dou’s Self-Portrait to a contemporary copy after a Dou self-portrait.
The inferior attribution remained until January 2011, when Dou scholars descending on New York for Old Master Paintings Week revisited the Brooklyn panel and unanimously returned it to Dou’s body of work. Last week Professor Chapman confirmed the sitter’s identity: a teenage Dou thinned in the face by the artist himself with a few strategically placed brushstrokes. (X-radiographs of the panel confirm a slightly plumper youth lurking underneath.)
The Brooklyn painting—Dou’s earliest surviving self-portrait—is now on view for the first time since 1945 in the Museum’s Beaux-Arts Court. Also on view in New York, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Dutch galleries, is Dou’s mature self-portrait, painted again in Leiden but over forty years later at the height of the artist’s career.