Not in Benesch
Subject: Portrait of a Seated Elderly Man, wearing a broad-brimmed hat
Verso: laid down on a mat made of blue card (see Inscriptions below).
Medium: Pen and brown (iron-gall) ink with brown wash, heightened with white, on paper perhaps toned very pale brown. Ruled framing lines in pen and brown ink and in grey-brown ink. Inscribed on verso of mat in pen and brown ink (c.1810?): “paul Rembrant [underlined later in a paler brown ink] Van Ryn./ Ces deux Dessins ont orné/ les cabinets, Crozat, Noury / et en dernier lieu Celui / du president Audri, d’Orleans”;  and top left in graphite: “No.91.”
126 x 126. Watermark: none visible; chain lines: 24v (? not entirely clear as laid down).
COMMENTS: The composition is inspired by Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, which Rembrandt saw in Amsterdam and copied in a drawing dated 1639 (Benesch 0451); the present drawing would probably date from around that year. The man portrayed probably came from the Jewish community in Amsterdam, as is suggested by the tassels (tzitziyot) attached to his clothing.
The drawing is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least because of its overall high quality, including the confident mise-en-page and the profound characterisation of the sitter, qualities that make the drawing stand apart from almost all the works of Rembrandt’s pupils. Yet the attribution to Rembrandt is not entirely straightforward, as some of its stylistic features are not commonly encountered in Rembrandt’s own work: the sleeves, for example, are drawn in separate geometric segments, one above the other, mostly with rather bold lines of even breadth. In the further sleeve (on spectator's left, the figure's right), the effect is almost cubistic. Rembrandt usually introduced greater variety into the thickness of his pen lines, especially his outlines. The white heightening, in the beard and below it as well as under the hat and in the nearer ear, is apparently employed somewhat casually.
The ‘geometric’ quality is, however, encountered to some degree in the above-mentioned Portrait of Castiglione (Benesch 0451), the attribution to Rembrandt of which has never been questioned, not least because it is covered in his handwriting. The folds cascade down Castiglione’s right arm in a comparable manner, though the effect is diminished by the thickly brushed lines on the main part of the body. The underlying, thinner pen lines in the body are also similar and split into pairs, probably by pressure exerted on the nib, an effect that also appears in the Seated Elderly Man. The way the facial features are drawn is much the same – the nose with its heavier touch near the nostrils, the eyes with their emphatic dots for the irises and pupils, the near-vertical, minuscule lines of hatching either side of the nearer eye, the small spots of ink and dashes that key in the lie of the surface – these are all analogous (for all these features cf. also the Ahasuerus on his Throne, Benesch 0085). So, too, is the rather casual use of white bodycolour near Castiglione’s hands and behind his neck. Furthermore, the lower lip is suggested by a, for Rembrandt, entirely characteristic short horizontal dash. This and other features again occur in the documentary Portrait of a Woman (Maria Trip?), also probably of c.1639 (Benesch 0442; British Museum), which is related to Rembrandt’s painting of that year now on loan to the Rijksmuseum (see Corpus, III, 131 and VI, 184b): the delineation of the hair, the wedge-shaped hand and in the somewhat unspecific use of white heightening are all encountered again.
Further comparisons may be made with other generally accepted drawings, including the Youth Walking Carrying a Pole, now in the Rijksmuseum (not in Benesch; Amsterdam, 1985, no.13; inv.RP-T-1984-119). This again exhibits evenly-outlined geometric shapes, especially - but not only – in the trousers and down the figure's back, and a somewhat generalised application of white heightening. The uniform outlines also occur in a few other ink drawings of the period, such as the Study of Women with Children, now in a private collection (Peck Collection; Benesch 300), a work with other stylistic connections with the Seated Elderly Man, and there are also signs of the geometrical approach with broad outlines in the lower sketch of a Seated Beggar Woman, now in the Louvre (Benesch 0197).
Other comparisons are equally suggestive of Rembrandt’s authorship: the Sleeping Dog, also of c.1639 (Benesch 0455; Boston Museum of Fine Arts), includes shapes below that closely resemble the books under the hands of the Portrait of a Seated Elderly Man. The indefinite, slack pen and brush lines in the right background also resemble those seen here. The shadows at the back of the kennel almost conceal some parallel, horizontal lines that appear to have been drawn into the wet ink with a dry, sharp implement, to create a sense of refracted light as well as to hint at texture and perspective, and this series of striations resembles the technique of shading under the brim of the hat of the Portrait of a Seated Elderly Man.
It is certainly possible to compare the Seated Elderly Man with other drawings by Rembrandt that it resembles less closely than one might wish, such as the Portrait of Willem Ruyter, now in the Rijksmuseum (not in Benesch; inv. RP-T-1996-6); but there are nevertheless some similarities in, for example, the delineation of the facial features. But as described above, sufficient similarities exist even with two of Rembrandt’s documentary drawings to render the attribution of the Seated Elderly Man to Rembrandt highly likely. While this conclusion is not entirely straightforward, and one might wish for yet stronger stylistic connections, there are no works by his pupils that come nearly so close. Rembrandt’s work is not always 'predictable', as we know from drawings such as the Portrait of Burchard Grossmann (Royal Library, The Hague, Benesch 0257), which though signed and dated 1634, has such a unique stylistic character that it is practically never referred to as a point of comparison to sustain the attribution of other drawings to Rembrandt. If it had survived without its related inscriptions, its attribution would have proven contentious. But if Rembrandt can produce the stylistically unexpected in a signed drawing, there is no reason why he should not occasionally also do so in an unsigned work. As an art historian trained to focus on differences, it is extremely important to remember this fact and to understand that variations in style do not necessarily mean that different artists were responsible for a given work of art, the more so with such an experimental and inventive artist as Rembrandt. If the drawing is not by Rembrandt, then it would become hard to sustain the attribution to Rembrandt of some of the drawings mentioned above - the Rijksmuseum's Youth Walking Carrying a Pole and also Benesch 300, which seems improbable as, like the Portrait of Castiglione mentioned above, it is inscribed by Rembrandt himself.
Condition: somewhat foxed, otherwise generally good. The acidic iron-gall ink has not 'bitten' into the paper significantly although the effect of the wash may be slightly flattened.
Summary attribution: Rembrandt
COLLECTION: Paris Art Market (Artcurial) 2016
FURTHER LITERATURE/REMARKS: E. Davoust, Le comte de Bizemont, artiste-amateur orléanais, son œuvre et ses collections, Orléans, 1891, p.142, n°561; see also under Provenance, 2016.
PROVENANCE: Pierre Crozat (according to inscription on verso of mat); Jean-Baptiste-François Nourri (1697-1784); his sale, Paris, Folliot and Delalande, onzième vacation, 8 March, 1785, the second drawing in lot 771 (“Deux têtes, l’une de Philosophe coëffé d’un bonnet fourré, & tenant un livre à la main, l’autre un Vieillard à barbe, la tête coëffée d’un grand chapeau ; à la plume et lavé au bistre”) bt Tavernier with lot 772 (“Deux Paysages, l’un à la plume, enrichi de ruines & de plusieurs figures, et l’autre lavé au bistre”), 33 livres; François-Pascal Haudry (1718-1800; according to inscription on verso of mat; see n.1 below); Comte de Bizemont- Prunelé (1752-1837) [L.128; see under Literature above and n.1 below]; sale, Paris, Artcurial, 31 March, 2016, lot 10 (as “attributed to Rembrandt”, with statements by the compiler, supporting the attribution [based on an early version of the present text] and by Peter Schatborn, rejecting it) sold for 217,500 euros.
 The modern orthography would of course be ‘Audry’, as Matthieu Fournier of Artcurial, Paris, correctly surmised (oral communication 5 January 2016). But as "président Haudry", as discovered by Patrick de Bayser from a descendant of the Comte de Bizemont-Prunelé, Pierre de Bizemont, he is mentioned in the foreword by Luis Jarry to the book by Davoust noted under Literature above, p.VIII, as a collector who was closely linked with the Comte de Bizemont- Prunelé. Davoust himself on p.9 of his introduction emphasises this link (email to the compIler of 19 January 2016). Haudry is also mentioned with the dates 1718-1800 by G. Scherf, in T. Gaehtgens et al. (eds), L'art et les normes sociales au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 2001, p.160, as well as in a number of sale catalogues. An ‘Audry’ was a buyer at the Nourri sale which the present drawing passed through in 1785 (e.g. of lots 768 - a drawing by Rembrandt – 882 and 918). As “Président Audry” he is mentioned in Jean-Baptiste Pierre Lebrun, Galerie des peintres flamands, hollandais et allemands, Paris, 1792, pp.20 and 33, as an Orléans collector of note who owned a painting each by Jacob Jordaens and Pieter Van Mol; these turn up in the Cardinal Fesch sale catalogue, Rome, 1844, pp.108 and 157, in which Audry is mentioned as their former owner. The inscription might possibly have been written either by A.G.P. Bizemont or by his son, according to Pierre de Bizemont. I am grateful to Raphaëlle Drouhin of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Orléans for further information about Haudry. He was 'président du bureau des finances d’Orléans', hence his unusual title. For further information she points to M. L'abbé Desnoyers, Les Collectionneurs Orléanais, Orléans, 1880, especially pp.6-7; and E. Moinet and I. Klink Ballesteros, Le Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans, Paris, 2006, especially pp.25, 65 and 114.
 Peter Schatborn compared the clothes to those in an illustration of Jews at the end of the sixteenth century in Germany, in the Basel “Stammbuch” of 1612 (as illustrated in the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901 – I have not located the original source) [email to the present writer, 15 October 2015]. The figure on the right of the “Stammbuch” illustration closely resembles that in a print from the circle of Crispijn de Passe, undescribed in Hollstein, an impression of which is in the British Museum (1873,0614.101) and also the figure in the centre of a broadside of 1633 in the same institution (1873,0712.139). Tassels, as seen here, were commonly (and still are, in a different form) attached to Jewish prayer shawls. The broad-brimmed hat, however, is reminiscent of old quaker and parsons’ hats.
 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv.RP-T-1930-38. The underlying lines are much obscured by wash, but the face, including the ‘tramlines’ down the nose, is very close to the Seated Elderly Man. It is now usually dated c.1638-39 (see Amsterdam, 1985, no.10).
 One might have expected to see the number usually written in the lower right corner of Crozat’s drawings by P.J. Mariette, who catalogued them for the 1741 Crozat sale, but this might have been subsequently trimmed away. Crozat’s 391 Rembrandt drawings were said by Mariette, in the catalogue, to have mostly come from the collection of Roger de Piles, who had purchased them in the Netherlands. Unfortunmately the Crozat sale catalogue does not generally describe individual sheets. See further on Crozat’s Rembrandt drawings Schatborn, 1981, especially pp.41-46. See also n.5 below.
 Nourri was a major purchaser of drawings at the Crozat sale (see L. Bicart-Sée, ‘Some Archival References for Jean-Baptiste-François Nourri’, Master Drawings, xlv, 2007, pp.87-90).
* I am grateful to Patrick de Bayser and Matthieu Fournier for showing me the original drawing on 5th January 2016. As the drawing is soon to be sold I would like to reiterate here what I state on this site's Homepage: "This is a not-for-profit resource. All the opinions expressed are the compiler's own and offered freely and without prejudice. I do not accept payment for opinions, as to do so might undermine any validity they may have".
First posted 14 January 2015