Uncovering a Signature, Bringing an Artist to Light

Prior to the painting’s arrival at The Center, Boyden had made inquiries as to the creator due to its striking resemblance to Rembrandt’s 1629 Self-Portrait, on view at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photographs were sent to Doyle New York and Sotheby’s in an effort to gather any information on the painting. At best, it appeared to be a fine replica of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (about 1629), possibly a period copy done by a student of his. At worst, still a respectable 19th century reproduction. Yet, the artist responsible for this work remained unidentified. During the early stages of restoration, however, The Center’s Associate Conservator of Paintings, Rob Datum, made an unanticipated discovery that put an end to the speculation. 

During the cleaning process, a signature was uncovered of 18th century English painter and etcher Thomas Worlidge. He was known in his lifetime as the “English Rembrandt.” A genius in portraiture, he established a reputation through miniatures and was commissioned by some of the most famous people of his era, including the British Royal family. Today, his work is in collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Portrait Museum, London, and Tate Gallery.

Rob Datum, Associate Conservator of Paintings:
“The signature on the lower, right hand side of the painting was slowly uncovered while the varnish was being removed. That was a very exciting moment. It’s very, very faint and when it came up everyone in the lab was helping each other discern the letters. Through intensive research, we learned it was the signature of Thomas Worlidge. It made sense. His works fit perfectly in line with Rembrandt’s style."

"In Portrait of a Man, the mouth had been rendered shut and when the overpaint was removed, there were teeth missing. This area of loss had to be filled in with photo documentation of the initial painting, so I thoroughly examined the original Rembrandt piece by visiting the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I was able to use this precise information to inpaint the area of loss in the same spirit as the original.”

Clearly, Worlidge’s portrait was influenced by Rembrandt but it certainly has its differences. It was not intended to be a direct copy or meant to be passed off as Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait. It’s merely a work painted in a comparable style. We were delighted to not only conserve this painting for its owner, but to help uncover the mystery surrounding the artist of this work! 
“I’m glad I brought this painting to The Conservation Center—I’m very happy with the work, plus they helped uncover a mystery about this painting,” Andy said. “I have peace of mind that this portrait will be around for many more years to come. It now properly lives and breathes, and I can now look into the subject’s eyes and feel it all through this painting.”