Curator says there are only seven authenticated Rembrandt paintings in public collections in Canada—and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston owns four of them
Head of an Old Man with Curly Hair (1659) was recently gifted to the gallery by Linda and Daniel Bader of Milwaulkee. The donation was made in memory of Alfred Bader, a Queen’s alumnus who previously gifted other Rembrandt paintings to the gallery and made other significant donations to the university.
The new addition will hang alongside three other Rembrandts in the gallery’s permanent collection starting the afternoon of May 3.
“In Canada, there are only seven authenticated Rembrandt paintings altogether in public collections,” says Agnes Etherington Art Centre director Jan Allen. “So this painting makes us predominant in those holdings. And we’re very excited to bring this painting to our publics here.”
Unlike at other Canadian art galleries that have an authenticated Rembrandt—such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Gallery of Canada—admission at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre is always free, meaning that people can visit and revisit the works more easily.
“The work is protected, but people can get right up close to examine it,” says Allen. “That’s one of the great things about this space for visitors—the [Rembrandt] works are pretty much always available, and people can get a close view.”
The new painting is a study of emotion and character, also called a tronie in Dutch. “It is an exploration of facial expression, dramatic lighting, sometimes exotic costume,” says curator Jacquelyn Coutré. “We have two such character studies by Rembrandt already in the collection, and this one has the figure gazing out towards us.”
Coutré says Rembrandt’s skill in “conveying humanity and humanity’s depth” is also evident in this painting. “I think this will allow us to explore the artist’s great strengths in more detail,” Coutré says.
Also distinctive regarding Head of an Old Man with Curly Hair is the ability to trace its provenance. “It’s from a Scottish collection in 1740, we know, so it allows us to do further research on how Rembrandt’s paintings circulated,” says Coutré.
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s four Rembrandt paintings are available to the public, researchers and other university programs, as needed: “We have used some of Rembrandt’s paintings in nursing programs to talk about empathy and dwelling in the body,” says Coutré, “and also with certain drama classes for the intense focus on the figure.”
Says Allen, “I encourage people to visit many times—it’s pretty rare to have a collection of this quality that is this accessible.”