Thursday, 29 March 2012

Woburn Abbey unveils Rembrandt Masterpiece

A newly authenticated Rembrandt masterpiece has been revealed for the first time at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.  Until recently the original oil painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man or The Old Rabbi had hung in a private room at the home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford.  On public display from 30th March, visitors to Woburn Abbey will have an unparalleled opportunity to view this ‘new’ Rembrandt up close.

Professor Ernst van de Wetering, acknowledged as a world authority on Rembrandt, was invited to Woburn last year to study the portrait.  His conclusion was that the quality and style of work proves it could only have been painted by the Dutch old master Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.

Woburn Abbey General Manager Jonathan Irby said: “This is a discovery and a fine addition to the Abbey’s wonderful collection of Dutch art.
“We are very excited about bringing this exquisite painting into the public eye, especially since visitors will be able to get within a few inches of it.  The opportunity to discover a ‘new’ Rembrandt will provide an even more memorable day for our visitors in 2012.”
The first written reference to the painting in the Abbey records is in 1791, showing it was cleaned that year.  Along with two other portraits, it was initially accepted as a Rembrandt.  Over time studies of the three portraits resulted in uncertainty.  However, curatorial staff believed Portrait of an Old Man had virtues that made it stand out as something special.
As Professor van de Wetering has highlighted: “This painting is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive evocations of dignity in old age. The way the light makes the figure emerge from the dusky space and illuminates the wrinkled skin of the face, and the hands resting on a stick, makes it an outstanding specimen of Rembrandt’s art.”  It is therefore implied that this is more than a study of old age.   It is believed that the Woburn picture and a painting in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair.  Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case.  This along with the similarities of design and biblical style: the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains has led to the suggestion from Professor van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.

For more information on Woburn Abbey, visit or call 01525 290333

Woburn Abbey’s outstanding art collection
Woburn Abbey has been the family home of the Earls and Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years and is currently the home of the 15th Duke and his family.   The Abbey houses one of the most important private art collections in the world with over 250 works by artists including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Van Dyck and Cuyp. 
The most popular painting in the collection is the iconic portrait of Elizabeth I attributed to George Gower in 1588.  Known as 'The Armada Portrait' it commemorates the great victorious sea battle the same year against the Spanish invasion fleet.   A statement of power and authority, Elizabeth is portrayed as Empress of the world and commander of the seas.  

The Dining Room at Woburn Abbey contains the largest private collection of Venetian views by Canaletto (1697 – 1768), being 21 paintings displayed in one room. The future Fourth Duke of Bedford visited Venice while on the Grand Tour in 1731 and the paintings were subsequently commissioned. These outstanding paintings remind us of the fascination of this beautiful city for the traveller.

2012 is the third year of the Woburn ArtBeat exhibition.   The village of Woburn and Woburn Abbey join together to promote high quality original art by transforming the village into an art gallery from the 6th April until the 27th April and a large contemporary outdoor sculpture exhibition in the gardens of Woburn Abbey from the 6th April until 31st August.    Works on display in the Abbey Gardens are by artists as varied as Maurice Blik, Philip Blacker, Nicolas Moreton, Paul Vanstone, Peter Randall-Page and William Peers.

Just south east of Milton Keynes, Woburn Abbey is signposted from junctions 12 and 13 of the M1. It is also easily accessible from the A5.

Woburn Abbey Timeline
Hugh de Bolebec founds Woburn Abbey, with monks from Fountains Abbey

Abbot Robert Hobbes executed for treason by Henry VIII and Woburn Abbey dissolved

Francis, Fourth Earl builds two-storey north wing, with the grottos. Both still part of the house today

Charles I twice previously visited as a guest but this time as a prisoner and had a fateful meeting with Oliver Cromwell

Execution of Lord William Russell for involvement in the Rye House Plot

Posthumous pardon issued for execution and Earldom elevated to Dukedom

4th Duke’s Grand Tour takes him to Venice.   Commissions paintings by Canaletto as a souvenir.

4th Duke negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War. Louis XV gifts Sèvres porcelain service in appreciation

4th Duke employs Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the West Wing, turning Woburn Abbey into a graceful Palladian house

John, 6th Duke employs Humphrey Repton to landscape the park

The gardens are the site of the world’s first ecological experiments and results will later influence Darwin’s argument on the origin of the species

Lord John Russell passes Reform Bill through parliament and twice becomes prime minister during Queen Victoria’s reign

Royal visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

1872 – 1891
Hastings, 9th Duke contributes to agricultural experiments, school improvements and tenant welfare

Mary, wife of the 11th Duke takes on role of nurse and turns Woburn Abbey into a military hospital

After several record breaking flights in previous years, Mary disappears on solo flight to Norfolk

1939 – 1945
Woburn estates taken over as centre for black propaganda and billeting of Wrens from Bletchley Park

The Abbey opens to public visitors

Woburn Safari Park opens to the public on the 20th May 1970

The 14th Duke creates a world class golf facility with Woburn Golf Club.   1976 saw the opening of the first of the three courses: The Duke’s.

1999 – 2002
The 14th Duke and Duchess become television favourites on the TV series ‘Country House’

Andrew, the 15th and present Duke inherits the Estate

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