The Dutch Connection



In 2010, Buckland Abbey received a gift of five paintings, left to them by the estate of the Lady Samuel of Wych Cross. One of the pieces, an oil portrait of a man in 15th-century dress, was believed to have originated at the studio of the Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn--more commonly known as simply "Rembrandt." Having originated at Rembrandt's studio, it was believed the painting was a product of a protegee rather than the artist himself. After an in-depth analysis of the painting, spearheaded by the Rembrandt Research Project, it was determined that the work was in fact a self-portrait by Rembrandt. The painting is now one of the abbey's most beloved treasures, and is displayed in its own gallery when visitors first walk in.

While the portrait was always recognized as depicting Rembrandt--the features resembled earlier self-portraits he had painted and engraved--there was significant debate over who had actually created the painting. The Rembrandt self-portrait shows many of his signature hallmarks, including a fantastic rendering of light and the use of brushstrokes to create texture. Buckland Abbey displays the work in a glass case in a dark exhibition room, allowing viewers to examine the detail--at a far closer range than one would find in a Rembrandt exhibition at a larger museum in Europe. Surrounding the painting are labels explaining how Buckland acquired the painting, how art historians and scientists examined the work to determine its creator, and Rembrandt's life as a painter in the Netherlands. 

The influences of Dutch painting are seen in artworks throughout the abbey, though many of them involve the abbey's most famous residents rather than the Dutch 'Master of Light.' Depictions of Sir Francis Drake are seen in both paintings and sculptures displayed around the Abbey:






With many of Francis Drake's treasures from his travels on display, it is only fitting that a painting from the Netherlands would find its way to Buckland's collection. Even if it was not acquired by Drake himself, the inclusion of a foreign treasure fits Drake's legacy as a seafarer and explorer. At the height of the Dutch 'Golden Age of Painting' in the 16th century, collectors from all over Europe were hoping to acquire works in the style of Rembrandt's, with painterly renderings of everyday scenes rather than the religious paintings being produced in Italy and France. Increasing trade networks across Europe not only brought goods across borders, but art as well. The 'global economy' of today is truly nothing new, as seen in the story behind Buckland Abbey's beloved Rembrandt self-portrait. 

Read more about Buckland Abbey's Rembrandt and the National Trust's efforts to perserve it here.

Text © Deirdre Sheridan, 2016

Photos © Deirdre Sheridan, 2016