Nearly a year ago, I had a conversation with someone about how all art is a self-portrait. With each work, an artist shows a part of himself (herself) to the world.
When I sat in the Rembrandt and Hals gallery at the Met one afternoon, I noticed that most people breezed past the paintings in the room. That’s totally understandable, since most of the paintings look similar: really pale guys in white ruffle collars. Although Rembrandt really knows how to make a painting glow, the subject is pretty boring.
One of Rembrandt’s self-portraits lives in another gallery at The Met (Gallery 634). People love that painting, they stand in front of it and take selfies with it. It doesn’t live in Gallery 637. No, this room is about OTHER people.
Rembrandt painted himself over and over throughout his lifetime. There are nearly 100 documented works. It seems that art historians don’t really know why he did it.
At this point in my life, I want to believe he was trying to understand himself better. Nobody wants to look at themselves that much unless they want to learn something.
During my time in that room, the most popular work in this gallery was a portrait of a woman. According to the placard, Rembrandt worked on this painting of his companion, Hendrickje Stoffels for decades. “Probably,” it says. They can’t confirm it.
The placard also says there’s no doubt that Rembrandt painted this. It doesn’t go too into detail, but it probably has to do with subject, style, and science. (That’s as Fake or Fortune as I’m ever going to get.)
Rembrandt used Hendrickje as a model for many of his paintings. However, he never explicitly said it was her. Don’t be shy about it, Rembrandt, show yourself to the world.
Self portrait recipe: Paint the person you love to learn more about yourself and nobody will deny it’s you.