Self Portrait aged 24 (1639)

Flinck, Govert (1615-1660)

Self Portrait aged 24
Oil on oak, 65.8 × 54.4 cm
National GalleryLondon

Rembrandt was an exacting teacher as well as a great artist – at least, he knew how to school the apprentices who came into his workshop so that they could paint just like he did. Sometimes they produced paintings so close in style and subject matter to his own that they have created confusion and the opportunity for fraud.

In this portrait we can see many skills and techniques which Rembrandt used with such great effect. Look at the intense and detailed focus on the face, the skilful layering of paint, the subtle mixing of different skin tones and the use of texture and colour to suggest stubble and pores. Then there are the highlights on the gold band around the sitter’s hat and the chain around his neck. The pink patterned scarf is also painted with the same sort of long brushstrokes Rembrandt favoured when depicting fabric of this type.

In summary, it’s a highly accomplished painting, in a distinctly Rembrandt-like style. We now know that it is a self portrait by one of his most successful pupils, Govert Flinck, but for many years it was thought to be a signed self portrait by Rembrandt himself. It was only in 1926 that cleaning revealed that his signature had been forged to cover Flinck’s own. This was probably done in the nineteenth century in order to add value to the painting. The forgery was removed so that you can now see the original, together with the date 1639, on the lower right hand side of the background.

Even once the correct signature was rediscovered the painting was still thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt. It was only in the 1960s that comparison of the face with known likenesses of Flinck led to a consensus that it must be a self portrait made when the artist was 24. Although he had left Rembrandt’s studio two or three years previously, and was later to develop his own style and become a successful Amsterdam artist in his own right, this painting is still strongly influenced by his former master and not only in the painting style.

Flinck here seems to be responding to a new type of self portrait which Rembrandt was developing around this time. There is an excellent example in our collection – Self Portrait at the Age of 34 – which shows Rembrandt leaning his elbow and forearm on a stone sill. It was a pose used by great painters of the Italian Renaissance and he dressed himself to reflect that. He radiates confidence and seems to be proclaiming himself heir to that great tradition.

In this painting, Flinck focuses more tightly on the head and shoulders, cropping out the arms, but the position and turn of the head, and the antiquated clothing he wears, is highly reminiscent of Rembrandt’s new approach. Rembrandt’s self portrait is dated 1640, but the etching on which it is based was made in 1639. So it seems that Flinck was responding immediately to his former master’s development of a new type of self portrait. (NG)


Flinck, Govert (1615-1660)
Self-Portrait with Beret
Kelvingrove MuseumGlasgow