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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Willem Drost

Bust of Man Wearing a Large-brimmed Hat, 1655, Willem Drost
Signed and dated.
Artists! Save future generations of art historians a lot of work. Always sign and date your paintings (and other stuff) you create. Of course, in doing so you may also put them out of work but... Moreover, I'm not just talk-ing about important works such as major painting and sculptures. Very often simple drawings and sketches need attribution as well. Art experts also advise that an artist create a provenance packet, a starting point document in an envelope containing important de-tails about each major work, at-tached to the work (but not lodged between canvas and stretchers) for the benefit of future generations buying or selling your art. (Include preliminary drawings and photos too.) In doing so, you might make your descendants quite wealthy. It might make the difference between your work, sometime in the future, bringing six figures at auction, or seven. The Dutch "golden age" student of Rembrandt, Willem Drost, is a good role model.
The Polish Rider, c.1655, Rembrandt. Is it really a
Rembrandt, or a Drost...or a little of both?
It wasn't that Drost didn't sign his work. Mostly, he did. The problem is, Rembrandt often forgot to do so. And as it happens, art historian are left scratching the heads, forced to rely on minor, highly esoteric (and debatable) details in deciding, in essence, who painted what. Drost was such an apt student, as seen in his Bust of Man Wearing a Large-brimmed Hat (top), in many ways he rivaled or surpassed his master. In fact, he may have worked on some parts of Rembrandt's paintings such as The Polish Rider (above). Some have even suggested he painted the whole damned thing. Art historians hate it when faced with such controversies.

The Vision of Daniel, Willem Drost
One factor not making life any simpler for art historian now and then is the fact that, though Willem Drost was one of Rembrandt's most gifted pupils, he was also one of the most enigmatic. We don't even know for sure the date of his birth, though he was apparently baptized on February 5, 1633. A Dutch painter, presumably born in Amsterdam, Drost was active in Italy for part of his very brief career. Several paintings now assigned to him were formerly attributed to his master, including perhaps, the celebrated Polish Rider mentioned earlier, which is considered by many to be one of Rembrandt's most poetic creations.

Bathsheba's baths.
Among Drost's undisputed works is the sensuous masterpiece Bathsheba with the Letter from King David, (above, top) dating from 1654. It now hangs in the Louvre, near Rembrandt's much more famous version (above, middle) painted in the same year and evidently inspired by it. A second version by Rembrandt also dates from 1654 (above, bottom). Personally, I like Drost's version the best. It seems so much more natural.

These were apparently all painted in the 1650s while
Drost was an eager student of Rembrandt.
Around 1650, Willem Drost became a student of Rembrandt, eventually developing a close working relationship, painting history scenes, biblical compositions, symbolic studies of a solitary figure, as well as portraits. Drost spent a long period in Rome where he became friends with Karel Lot and the well-to-do Utrecht painter, Joan vander Meer, around 1653. He was back in Amsterdam until 1655 before again traveling to Italy. It was there Willem Drost died in 1659 at the age of twenty-six. Who knows? Had he live to be as old as Rembrandt (sixty-three), he might have surpassed him in importance.

Timothy and Lois, 1650s. Is it a Drost or a Rembrandt?
You decide (answer at bottom).
Willem Drost's recognized lifetime output of artwork is very small, as compared to that of Rembrandt, who is credited with more than 2,000 paintings and etchings, the majority of which are not signed. As a result, in recent years some paintings attributed to Rembrandt have had their authenticity come under question. The importance of these Rembrandt works is such that a foundation known as the Rembrandt Research Project, was established in Amsterdam to review the attribution of all of his works. As a result, scholars have now reattributed a number of Rembrandt's paintings to his pupils and associates.

Young Woman in a Brocade Gown, 1654. Willem Drost
When the portrait of a young man on horseback titled The Polish Rider was discovered in 1897, it was attributed to Rembrandt. Acquired by New York City's Frick Collection, The Polish Rider is one of the Frick Museum's most valued treasures. For years, the painting's subject matter and purpose were questioned by many scholars. However, beginning in 1984, a movement led by Dr. Josua Bruyn of the Rembrandt Research Project, began to believe this great painting might also be the work of Willem Drost (or several others). This attributions remains controversial, but a reattribution of a group of "Rembrandt" drawings to Drost is more widely accepted. Also, Drost's 1654 painting, Portrait of a Young Woman with her Hands Folded on a Book (above), from 1654, is one of the works attributed to Rembrandt for more than three-hundred years.

Young Boy Holding a Flute, Willem Drost.
(In answer to the question posed earlier,
Timothy and Lois is also by Drost.)


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