Uncovering a masterpiece

Buckland Abbey's Rembrandt is hung in the Nave Gallery

A self-portrait, previously doubted as being a genuine Rembrandt, was scientifically verified as being from the Dutch Old Master’s own hand in 2014.

After undergoing eight months of painstaking investigative work at the world famous Hamilton Kerr Institute (HKI) in Cambridgeshire - and re-examination by the world’s leading Rembrandt expert - this now famous self-portrait, the original ‘selfie’, is the first Rembrandt in the Trust's collection of 13,500 paintings.

Painting analysis

Previously thought to be ‘school of Rembrandt’, Ernst van de Wetering, the world’s leading Rembrandt expert, concluded that the painting may well be a genuine after seeing it again in 2012. His assurance led us to send the painting away for further scientific analysis.

Christine Slottvedd Kimbriel, Paintings Conservator at HKI said: 'When the painting arrived we felt that a thorough technical examination would aid the reassessment of the painting’s authorship and we hoped that the findings could help to verify if it was definitely by Rembrandt.

'The self-portrait went through a series of investigate analyses to include close visual examination under magnification, infra-red reflectography, x-radiography, raking light photography and pigment and medium analysis.

'Careful cleaning and removal of several layers of aged and yellowed revealed the original colours and painting style beneath which was much more detailed and gave a three-dimensional appearance to the fabric in Rembrandt’s cloak.'

The artist’s signature was also analysed and other processes used for further investigative work.

David Taylor, our paintings and sculptor curator said: 'The debate over whether this is or isn’t a Rembrandt has been on-going for decades.

'The key element for me has been the cleaning. The varnish was so yellow that it was difficult to see how beautifully the portrait had been painted. Now you can really see all the flesh tones and other colours, as well as the way in which the paint has been handled – it’s now much easier to appreciate it as a Rembrandt.'

" Although I was pretty certain the painting was a Rembrandt when I saw it in 2013, I wanted to further examine it after cleaning and see the results from the technical analysis as this had never been done before. With all this additional scientific evidence, I am satisfied it is by Rembrandt. "
- Ernst van de Wetering

Project funding

The money for the cleaning and investigative work into the painting was raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Kate Pearson, Deputy Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery said: 'It's fantastic that this mystery is now solved; and that so many people will now be able to enjoy this newly confirmed Rembrandt. Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised an amazing £41.5 million for charities and good causes since the lottery’s launch in 2008 and we are delighted that the National Trust is one of the charities receiving support.'

Painting value

Post analysis, the painting has an estimated nominal value of £30 million, though as we care for items for public benefit for ever, it could never be sold.