The RRP Early On

Among the many works of this kind is his masterpiece The Blinding of Samson that he painted in 1636. He also liked to produce etchings that he began doing at around the age of 20. He was interested in its technique and effects, and over his lifetime created more than 300 pictures.

But it was his portrait paintings that often earned him much notoriety and attention. He especially loved to paint portraits of his family and friends, of wealthy patrons and many of himself. His artwork, mainly his paintings, were so compelling that some of the most renowned artists in history were influenced by them, including Goya, Whistler, Chagall and Picasso.

Rembrandt was famous for his great talent early on in his life, from July 15, 1606, to October 4, 1669. Beginning in his early 20s, he had become such a popular painter that he already had apprentices. His popularity grew steadily over his lifetime, and not long after his death there were books already published about him and his paintings were being inventoried.

This is where the confusion began. In inventorying his works, there were so many imitations of Rembrandt around, it became difficult to develop a clear number of works actually created by the artist. Going back decades, there have been issues concerning this. For instance, in the late 1800s, his paintings were numbered at more than 1,000. In the 1930s, that number dropped to around 700, and in the 1960s, it again changed to close to 400.

The many copied and faked paintings were made during and after his lifetime. Rembrandt’s work was in high demand, and he managed to keep productivity up while keeping his prices high by having strict quality-control on the work done at his studio. To help accomplish this, it is said the artist sometimes collaborated with his apprentices by sketching the basis of art pieces and having the pupils paint them in.

As well, his apprentices that worked under him at his studio often modeled their work after him. In addition, he had many followers and admirers who liked to imitate him, including other artists of the time. One such artist was another well-known Dutch painter named Gerrit Dou (April 7, 1613, to February 9, 1675) who was a pupil of Rembrandt’s and many of his works were attributed to him.

In an effort to sort this out and get a more precise number of authenticated artworks, the Dutch who view Rembrandt as their most important artist in the nation’s history, thought it necessary to hire people to review and catalog his works at the public’s expense. In 1968, they established the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) with the initial aim to review all of his paintings and separate Rembrandt’s own works from the large collection of “Rembrandt-type paintings” made at his studio by his apprentices and elsewhere by his many followers.

The ultimate objective of the RRP was the compilation of an oeuvre catalog, which the RRP states “is not in the first place a matter of getting to know Rembrandt as man and artist, but rather of ordering and describing his painted oeuvre.” In this fashion, their goal was to avoid confusing Rembrandt’s works with those of his pupils or other associates involved in the production of portraits, or with later fakes or imitations. The RRP set this as its priority.

The Amsterdam-based project was slated to take a decade to complete, and its mission started out simple. As stated: “a small group of the greatest Dutch specialists would undertake a detailed examination of the paintings then attributed to Rembrandt, using the latest scientific techniques. Having assembled the data, the team would analyze the results, sifting through the authentic works from those by Rembrandt’s studio and later followers.”

A team of seven expert scholars joined the RRP, including Ernst van de Wetering, Josua Bruyn, Bob Haak, Simon Levie and Pieter van Thiel. For 42 years, they set out to catalog Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings and make a determination of those that are authentic and those that are not, releasing their findings in a series of highly-detailed books called A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. The RRP was quickly on the road to becoming the most respected among groups created to review Rembrandt’s works.