Ernst van de Wetering, Leading Rembrandt Authority, Dies at 83

AMSTERDAM — Ernst van de Wetering, an artwork historian who was a towering determine on the earth of Rembrandt research, died on Aug. 11 at his house right here. He was 83.

His loss of life was confirmed by his companion, Carin van Nes. She didn’t specify the trigger, however she mentioned he had suffered from each cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a situation that prompted him to have strokes, and polyneuropathy, a illness that impacts peripheral nerves.

Professor van de Wetering spent greater than half a century inspecting work by, or mentioned to be by, Rembrandt. He was regarded by many within the artwork world because the main authority on their authenticity.

“His decisions on Rembrandt are going to be taken seriously for a long, long time,” mentioned Otto Naumann, a marketing consultant within the previous grasp work division at Sotheby’s New York. “No one else alive knows as much as he did about Rembrandt; nobody else comes even close.”

Professor van de Wetering was educated as an artist and artwork trainer at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague, however his profession was largely outlined by his main position at the Rembrandt Research Project, an initiative established in Amsterdam in 1968. At that point, the authenticity of many works that had been deemed Rembrandts and Vermeers by a earlier era of students was in dispute.

He began there at age 30 as an assistant. He was the youngest of a gaggle of students who got down to use new scientific applied sciences like X-radiography and ultraviolet fluorescence, mixed with connoisseurship, to find out a piece’s authenticity with larger certainty. In 1993, he turned the challenge’s chairman; in that place, he was typically regarded as the ultimate phrase on Rembrandt authentication.

“He became the arbiter of what is accepted as a Rembrandt painting,” mentioned Gary Schwartz, a historian of Dutch previous masters and his someday rival on the earth of Rembrandt scholarship.

Ernst van de Wetering was born on March 9, 1938, in Hengelo, a small city within the japanese Netherlands, to a German mom, Anna Maria Bahlmann, and a Dutch father, Gerardus Hermanus van de Wetering, engineer who was a member of the Dutch Nazi Party.

On what got here to be often known as “Mad Tuesday” in 1944, when rumor unfold all through the nation that the Allies had liberated the south, his mom took him and his brother, Jan, to a village close to Hamburg, Germany, the place they stayed till the top of the warfare. He later recalled that he didn’t see his father for 3 years.

In a 1993 look on the Dutch tv program “Zomergasten,” Professor van de Wetering spoke publicly for the primary time concerning the disgrace he felt rising up in a household that had been “wrong in the war,” the Dutch expression for collaborators. He mentioned he was always apprehensive that “people would know.”

He studied artwork historical past at the University of Amsterdam, the place in 1967 he met his future spouse, Katja Reichenfeld, who would later work as an artwork historian at the Jewish Historical Museum and a music critic.

In 1987, a 12 months after finishing his doctorate, he turned a professor of artwork historical past at the University of Amsterdam, a place he would maintain till 1999. During his tenure, he taught many college students who went on to have essential roles within the artwork world, together with Taco Dibbits, the director of the Rijksmuseum.

Mr. Dibbits recalled that whereas getting his grasp’s diploma at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam within the 1990s, he took a seminar with Professor van de Wetering at the University of Amsterdam, which included a gaggle journey to Berlin.

“He took us to the museum for eight hours to look at two or three paintings,” Mr. Dibbits mentioned. “I never thought you could spend two or three hours looking at a single painting.”

Professor van de Wetering in 2009 at the opening of the exhibition “The Complete Rembrandt” at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam.Credit…Evert Elzinga/Associated Press

Part of Professor van de Wetering’s very thorough strategy was to discover all features of a piece, together with the thread rely of the weave of a canvas and the methods a portray may need been altered or restored after it was painted, altering its construction or topic. In so doing, he pushed the complete discipline of previous grasp research in a brand new route. Backed by science in addition to art-historical data, and with many acolytes educated in his strategies, he entered a realm of Rembrandt scholarship that earlier consultants had not been capable of obtain.

Some noticed his authority within the discipline as optimistic for Rembrandt; others, like Mr. Schwartz, mentioned it may very well be “deleterious to scholarship.”

“Before him,” Mr. Schwartz mentioned, “there was more open debate about what might and might not be Rembrandt, and arguments went across the table and around the world, which was a frustration to the art market sometimes. Everyone in the market was very pleased that there was now a bankable name, so you could say in your auction catalog, ‘Approved by Ernst van de Wetering.’”

When Professor van de Wetering confirmed Rembrandt was certainly a Rembrandt, costs for the work may soar. But if he deattributed a piece by saying that it had been painted as a duplicate by a pupil or accomplished by a member of the studio, or that it was a pretend, the impression may very well be devastating.

“He created lots of excess value for some things and decreased value of other things,” Mr. Schwartz mentioned. “But he didn’t go after profits; I don’t think he ever took a penny for himself.”

As his affect grew, Mr. Dibbits mentioned, he additionally turned extra temperate about his attributions. “He became far more mild when he discarded Rembrandts,” Mr. Dibbits mentioned, “because he knew the impact that would have. He re-examined things, and he would change his mind.”

Since 1989, the Rembrandt Research Project has produced six volumes of “A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings,” an encyclopedic catalogue raisonné of all of the grasp’s verified works. Professor van de Wetering wrote the final three, “Self-Portraits” (2005), “The Small-Scale History Paintings” (2013) and “Rembrandt’s Paintings Revisited: A Complete Survey” (2014). In the final quantity, he modified his opinion on some 70 artworks that had been examined within the challenge’s early years, a transfer that surprised some within the artwork world.

“Rembrandt is one of those artists who are always new,” he wrote within the foreword to “Rembrandt: A Life in 180 Paintings” (2008). “This is not only because each generation of viewers looks at his work with new eyes, influenced by their own time and their own culture, but also because our knowledge about Rembrandt is constantly shifting.”

Mr. Dibbits mentioned that a lot of van de Wetering’s scholarly work, equivalent to his landmark “Rembrandt: The Painter at Work” (1995), explored the method of making artwork — how he labored, thought and experimented with paint. “His main curiosity,” he mentioned, “was: How did Rembrandt make a painting? Not just did he make it, but how did he make it?”

One of his strategies for making an attempt to know the “how” was to color within the model of Rembrandt. He typically had a canvas on an easel by his aspect, and when he was understanding such a query he generally turned to paints.

The Rembrandt Research Project closed its doorways in 2017. Not lengthy after that, Professor van de Wetering turned ailing, which compromised his means to work.

“He was so sad about it,” Ms. van Nes, who had lived with him since 2006, mentioned by e-mail. “He couldn’t read, walk, make music, and his concentration became worse.” Even so, she added: “He could paint! He painted very free paintings with pastel and gouache.”

His most up-to-date skilled endeavor was to encourage the Rijksmuseum to reconstruct items of Rembrandt’s monumental canvas “The Night Watch,” which had been cropped from the canvas within the early 18th century in order that it may match between two doorways at the Amsterdam Town Hall.

Professor van de Wetering conceived of the thought and suggested the museum from afar. He wasn’t effectively sufficient to take part.

In addition to Ms. van Nes, he’s survived by two sons, Constantijn and Jonathan, and three grandchildren.

Mr. Dibbits mentioned that Professor van de Wetering’s final contribution to the sphere of previous grasp research was to encourage a era of students, artwork sellers and curators to maintain their eyes open. “He taught me to look,” he mentioned, “and to look again, and never be satisfied with a simple conclusion.”