Skip to main content

Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)
date
1633
medium
oil on oval panel
dimensions
63.7 x 50.8 cm
signed information

signed and dated in light brown paint, lower right: “Rembrandt. fec. / 1633.”

inventory number
RR-108
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Print

Manuth, Volker. “Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed December 16, 2018).

This page is available on the site’s Archive. PDF of every version of this page is available on the Archive, and the Archive is managed by a permanent URL. Archival copies will never be deleted. New versions are added only when a substantive change to the narrative occurs.

Judging from the formal portraits produced by seventeenth-century artists, one would have to conclude that the Dutch were a pretty dour people, particularly the men. Invariably dressed in black with stiff starched collars, the sitters in these portraits rarely invoke inner warmth or a sense of joy. This broad overgeneralization, which to a certain extent excludes Frans Hals (1582/83–1666), seems rather apt for the greatest portraitist of the era, Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt had a remarkable ability to capture a lifelike presence in his commissioned portraits, but, for the most part, one comes away admiring the sincerity and inner strength of his sitters, not their ease of lifting one’s spirits through the glints in their eyes.

Set against this backdrop, Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat is like a breath of fresh air. Here is a man not averse to twirling his moustache upward to cast a friendly demeanor as he looks directly out at the viewer, the crinkles around his eyes and his arched eyebrows indicating that smiles easily cross his face. Even the tips of his white starched collar rise up positively to greet the world. His robust features and ample body further suggest a person who enjoys the fullness of life, both spiritually and physically. Adding to this sense is the bold red doublet he wears, one that Rembrandt brushes with an appropriate freedom of touch, particularly in articulating the horizontal braided clasps along the garments central divide.

Like Rembrandt’s Minerva in Her Study (RR-107), Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat was for a long time largely unknown. It surfaced in an English collection only at the beginning of the twentieth century (see Provenance). After Wilhelm Valentiner first published the portrait in 1930 as one of his “rediscovered Rembrandt paintings,” it circulated on the art market and was almost inaccessible to Rembrandt researchers. Largely on the basis of photographs, some authors doubted the work’s authenticity. The painting remained in relative obscurity until 1992, when its owner at the time drew it to the attention of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP). After thorough examination of the original in 1994 and 1997, the RRP judged the portrait, on both technical and stylistic grounds, to be an authentic work by Rembrandt.

Stylistically as well as technically, Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat is in keeping with Rembrandt’s portraits of the early 1630s, at which time he sought to achieve great spatial depth and plasticity in his figures. Here, he achieved this effect by rendering physiognomic details, such as the hair and facial wrinkles, with utmost meticulousness, while executing the braided fastenings on the red jacket in a much sketchier manner. Another typical feature is the way he set off the contour of the most brightly lit form (in this case the collar) from the dark background. On the other hand, he juxtaposed the shaded portion of the collar with the bright part of the background. Another means of heightening the illusion of depth was to leave the sitter’s foremost arm partly in shadow. The strongly illuminated shoulder forms a repoussoir, at the same time amplifying the effect of the light hitting the collar and the face. Finally, the form of the signature and the way it is rendered with a mixture of dark paint and lead white are typical of Rembrandt in this period.

The oak of the panel comes from the Baltic-Polish region and corresponds to a type of wood frequently used in Rembrandt’s studio. Dendrochronological research has shown that the tree could not have been felled before 1629, which means that in theory the panel—after a period of at least two years for aging or drying—could have been ready for use after 1631. The panel consists of two parts: a wider plank (37.8 cm) and a narrower one (13 cm). For his portraits and tronies Rembrandt often used panels composed of planks of different widths so that the seam would not run through the face. Although the oval format was popular for portraits around 1633, Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat seems originally to have had an upright rectangular shape, which was later changed into an oval. The back of the panel is planed and cradled, whereas a panel that was originally oval would show beveling that followed its oval shape. It is probable that the portrait was originally surrounded by an oval “window,” such as Rembrandt often painted on rectangular supports (see Self-Portrait with Shaded EyesRR-110), and that the panel was later cut into an oval shape along the inner edge of this painted “window.”

Rembrandt generally designed his compositions with a free sketch rather than with an elaborate underdrawing. A close comparison of the paint surface and the X-radiograph in this portrait makes it is clear that Rembrandt painted the background first, leaving a reserve for the figure. The contours of the figure, especially in the area of the hair and the collar, often deviate from the reserve. Rembrandt has here made a number of painted corrections, or pentimenti, as in, for example, the shape of the right shoulder, which was originally higher.

An unusual aspect of this painting is the sitter’s conspicuous red coat, very different from the black attire generally seen in portraiture of the 1630s. A red coat with red braided fastenings on the front and the sleeves was at that time associated with the military, and for this reason Valentiner assumed that the sitter was a member of the military. In support of this theory, he referred to similar braided clasps in the portrait of Philips van Dorp (1587–1652), an officer in the service of the States General, known from a print by Salomon Saverij (1594–ca. 1678) (). Saverij’s etching bears an inscription claiming that it was made after a (lost) portrait by Rembrandt of 1634. Red coats (including one with braided fastenings) are listed in a 1638 inventory of Floris II, Count of Culemborg, one of the highest ranking officers in the Northern Netherlands. A Portrait of an Unknown Officer by Isaack Jacobsz van Hooren (1620–52) of 1646 depicts the sitter in a red coat with braided clasps along with other military accessories, including a plumed hat, gorget, and rapier attached to the bandolier .

Significantly, these last pictorial elements are lacking in Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat, and without them it is impossible to say with certainty that the sitter was actually a member of the military. The coat’s red color and braiding and the wide, starched linen collar also occur in contemporary fashions, not only in the Netherlands, but also in France, England and Germany. For example, a gouache dated around 1634 by the French engraver Abraham Bosse shows a dancing man wearing a similar costume (), as does the elegant painter in his studio in a print dating from 1642 (). The painter wears a collar identical to the one worn by the man in Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat. The hairstyle—with pipe curls over the ears and a lock of hair on the forehead—and the moustache with its twisted ends reflect Spanish fashions, but, as with the man’s wardrobe, these styles were to be found all over Europe. The international character of the man’s appearance has led to speculations that the sitter was either a foreigner or a Dutchman who moved in international circles.

The manner in which the man turns to the right suggests that the portrait originally had a female pendant, which Valentiner assumed to be the Portrait of a Young Woman, likewise dated 1633. This hypothesis was rightly questioned in the Corpus. Its authors point out that although the dimensions of the two works are nearly the same, the woman’s portrait is painted on a different kind of wood, the panel consists of three planks, and it was originally oval in shape. Furthermore, the authors argued that the woman’s portrait is unlikely to have been the painting’s pendant because it was executed by a studio assistant and not by the master. Other reasons exist for rejecting the woman’s portrait as this painting’s companion piece: her dark clothes, with the white cap and the large pleated ruff, are typical of the conservative Dutch middle class and contrast with the stylish and colorful costume of her supposed mate.

A much more suitable candidate for the pendant to Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat is a female portrait, also dated 1633, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (). The sitter’s black gown with slashed sleeves is set off by a colorful ribbon around her waist. The gown, the collar, and the hairstyle likewise conform to the fashions then prevailing in France. Moreover, the oval support of the female portrait in Houston is nearly identical in size to Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat. Originally it, too, was probably rectangular in shape and only later made into an oval. Although the woman is more subtle and more delicately modeled than the man in Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat, pendants portraying young women are often more delicately executed than those of their male counterparts. Not only do their facial features and skin require different handling of the paint, but also the light coming from the left falls frontally on the woman’s face. The man’s face, which is turned to the right, is partly in shadow, and, as a result, his physicality is emphasized. With or without this purported pendant, however, this distinctive gentleman has a compelling presence that fully engages the viewer. Perhaps someday we will learn more about him and his life’s story.

- Volker Manuth
2017
  • Sir Philip John William Miles, 2nd Baronet (1825–88), Leigh Court, Somerset; by descent to his eldest daughter, Alice Catherine Miles, wife of Lt. Colonel Gerard Vivian Ames, of the Hyde, Herfordshire; by descent to their son, Captain Lionel Gerard Ames (born 1889) [Vicars Brothers, London, 1929; The Howard Young Galleries, New York, 1930].
  • David Loew, Beverly Hills [Findlay Gallery, New York, 1954].
  • Amon G. Carter Sr., Fort Worth, Texas, from 1954, and by descent to his third wife, Minnie Meacham Smith (sale Sotheby’s, New York, 30 January 1998, no. 18).
  • Dr. Alfred Bader, on behalf of Otto Naumann Ltd., New York, 1999.
  • The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts, Las Vegas, 1999 (sale, Christie’s, New York, 26 January 2001, no. 81 [Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht, until 2008]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2008.
  • Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, “The Thirteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Master Paintings by Rembrandt,” 2–31 May 1930, no. 23 [lent by Howard Young Galleries, New York].
  • New York, Otto Naumann Ltd., “Old Master Paintings,” 1999–2000, no. 25.
  • Newark, Newark Museum, “Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt,” 30 September 2001–20 January 2002; Denver, Denver Art Museum, 2 March–26 May 2002, no. 17a [lent by Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht].
  • Kyoto, National Museum, “Rembrandt Rembrandt,” 3 November 2002–8 January 2003; Frankfurt-am-Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, 1 February–11 May 2003, no. 19 and 21 [lent by Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht].
  • Vienna, Albertina, “Rembrandt,” 24 March–27 June 2004, no. 82 [lent by Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht].
  • London, Dulwich Picture Gallery “Rembrandt & Co.: Dealing in Masterpieces,” 27 June–3 September 2006; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, “Rembrandt en Uylenburgh, handel in meesterwerken,” 16 September–10 December 2006 [lent by Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht].
  • Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan with the permanent collection, June 2008–July 2011 [lent by the present owner].
  • Greenwich, Conn., Bruce Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, September–October 2011 [lent by the present owner].
  • Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art “Rembrandt in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship,” 30 October 2011–22 January 2012; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, 19 February–28 May 2012; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 24 June–16 September 2012, no. 182 [lent by the present owner].
  • Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan with the permanent collection, September 2012–2015 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Thirteenth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: Paintings by Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1930, no. 23.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. “Rediscovered Rembrandt Paintings.” Burlington Magazine 57 (December 1930): 260–65, no. 3A.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R.  Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931, no. 37.
  • Bredius, Abraham.  Rembrandt. Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, no. 176.
  • Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. London, 1937, 10, no. 176.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, 19, no. 364.
  • Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt: Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968, 280–81, 494, no. 151.
  • Bredius, Abraham, and Horst Gerson. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. London, 1969, 151, 562, no. 176.
  • Arpino, Giovanni, and Paolo Lecaldano. L’opera pittorica complete di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969, 100–1, no. 127.
  • Lecaldano, Paolo, and Gregory Martin. The Complete Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1969, 100–1, no. 127.
  • Dony, Frans L. M., and Karel Braun. Meesters der Schilderkunst: Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Rembrandt, en een beknopt overzicht van zijn voornaamste werk als etser en tekenaar. Rotterdam, 1969, 96–97, no. 127.
  • Bolten, Jaap, and Henriette Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Oxford, 1978, 181, no. 171.
  • Tümpel, Christian. Rembrandt: Mythos und Methode. Antwerp, 1986, 429, no. A83, as by a pupil of Rembrandt.
  • Tümpel, Christian. Rembrandt: All Paintings in Colour. Antwerp, 1993, 431–32, no. A83, as by a pupil of Rembrandt.
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 4: Self-Portraits. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. Dordrecht, 2005. 638–46, no. 1633.
  • Sutton, Peter C. “Portrait of a Man in a Red Doublet.” In Otto Naumann: Old Master Paintings, 74–77, no. 25. Sales cat. Otto Naumann Ltd., New York. New York, 1999.
  • Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert. “Portrait of a Man in a Red Doublet.” In The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art: European and American Masters. Edited by Libby Lumpkin, 26–31.  Las Vegas, 1999.
  • Westermann, Mariët, ed. Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Denver, Denver Art Museum; Newark, Newark Museum. Zwolle, 2001, 153, 163, no. 17a.
  • Giltaij, Jeroen, ed.  Rembrandt, Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Kyoto, Kyoto National Museum; Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städelsche Galerie. Hakkō, 2002, 80–81, no. 21.
  • Giltaij, Jeroen, ed.  Rembrandt, Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Kyoto, Kyoto National Museum; Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut un Städelsche Galerie. Wolfratshausen, 2003, 102–3, no. 19.
  • Bisanz-Prakken, Marian, and Klaus Albrecht Schröder, eds. Rembrandt. Exh. cat., Vienna, Albertina. Wolfratshausen, 2004, 196–97, no. 82.
  • Schavemaker, Eddy. Noortman: One Hundred Master Paintings. Sales cat. Maastricht, Noortman Master Paintings. Maastricht, 2003, 54–59, no. 18.
  • Van der Veen, Jaap.  “Hendrick Uylenburgh’s Art Business, Production, and Trade Between 1625 and 1655.  In Uylenburgh & Son: Art and Commerce from Rembrandt to De Lairesse. Edited by Friso Lammertse and Jaap van der Veen, 145–46.  Exh. cat. London, Dulwich Picture Gallery; Amsterdam, Museum het Rembrandthuis. Zwolle, 2006.
  • Schwartz, Gary. The Rembrandt Book. New York, 2006, 274.
  • Keyes, George S. “The Elusive Nature of Portraiture: Rembrandt as a Portraitist in Amsterdam.” In Rembrandt in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship. Edited by George S. Keyes, Tom Rassieur, and Dennis P. Weller, 115, pl. 27. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts. New York, 2011.
  • Weller, Dennis P. “Portrait of a Man in a Red Doublet.” In Rembrandt in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship. Edited by George S. Keyes, Tom Rassieur, and Dennis P. Weller, 182, no. 16, 202. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Arts. New York, 2011.
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst. Rembrandt: The Painter Thinking. Amsterdam, 2016, 6, 7, no. 6.
  • Surh, Dominique.  “Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat.” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh, 78, no. 29. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt and His Time: China and the Dutch Republic in the Golden Age.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 9; 14, fig. 5. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017. A slightly revised version of this essay appears in Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 32, fig. 5.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 46–47; 175, no. 13. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 64–65.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 18, 21; 29, 32. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina.  Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara “Portrait of a Man in a Red Coat.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 168–69; 242, 51. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, an oval composite panel, comprises two vertically grained oak planks of unequal widths. The vertical panel join runs through the background to the figure’s right. The panel has no bevels and has been cradled. Ernst van der Wetering speculates in the Rembrandt Research Project Corpus entry for this painting that, although the portrait was painted as an oval, the panel was originally rectangular, since the orientation of the oval panel and the oval composition are slightly askew. The panel reverse has three numerical inscriptions but no wax seals, stencils, import stamps, labels or panel maker’s marks.

Analyses of a paint cross-section from the lower edge revealed a double ground: a lower layer containing chalk, yellowed by the binder, and an upper layer containing lumps of lead white and a little ocher in an oleaginous binder followed by a thin transparent brown imprimatura. The imprimatura remains visible in areas along the outermost edge of the upper right corner and along the lower right corner where the background and red doublet meet. The paint has been smoothly applied with short strokes of low brushmarking through the background, with two raised horizontal strokes of white highlight, which accentuate the lower edge of the white collar, and thicker paint through the figure’s face, particularly his nose.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers.

The painting is signed and dated in light brown paint along the lower right.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition in 2008 and remains in a good state of preservation.

Scroll back to top