Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Portrait of a Young Woman, 1632, oil on panel. Allentown Art Museum: Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1961. (1961.35)


Inscription, front right: signed and dated in black in background above arm: H. L. van Rijn 1632


Rembrandt painted Portrait of a Young Woman in 1632, shortly after he moved from his native Leiden to the city of Amsterdam, where he began working in dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh’s studio. A small group of paintings from this time seems to feature the same model, once identified as the artist’s sister and now thought to be Uylenburgh’s wife, Maria van Eyck. Prior to his move to Amsterdam, Rembrandt’s focus had been on history painting: subjects inspired by the past, mythology, and the Bible. Pictures such as this one, which is not a commissioned portrait but a tronie (character study) made for sale, may have been used as examples for potential clients.

Conservation (the protection and maintenance of art) in 2018–2019 restored Portrait of a Young Woman’s original glow and brought to light the sublime color and details that had been obscured over time, opening a new door to our understanding of its maker and ultimately leading to a reattribution to Rembrandt. While the work had been ascribed to Rembrandt since the seventeenth century, around 1970, scholars demoted it to “Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn” citing concerns of “indistinct brushwork in the whole of the head” and “lack of clarity in the depiction of the clothing and jewelry.” Recent examinations using ultraviolet photography, X-radiography, infrared reflectography, and analysis of paint samples with cross-section microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, however, revealed that overpainting in the costume area and thick layers of darkened and degraded varnish throughout had obscured subtle pictorial details and surface textures, and affected the overall perception of the work. Removal of these later additions revealed the true nature of the original brushwork, consistent with the masterful hand of Rembrandt.

This painting is featured in the Museum’s Kress Gallery, which includes Italian, Dutch, Flemish, and rare German paintings gifted from collector and philanthropist Samuel H. Kress (1863–1955). Learn more about Kress and his collection HERE.