Rembrandt Masterpiece in New Anniversary Display

Kenwood House in Hampstead will host a special display to commemorate 350 years since Rembrandt’s death on 4 October 1669.

A new displaytitled Rembrandt #nofilteropens today at Kenwood, celebrating the artist’s Self-portrait with Two Circles, a painting widely acknowledged as one of the Dutch master’s defining images and regarded by some as one of the world's greatest works of art. 

The display will see the work taken from its usual context in Kenwood’s former Dining Room—which it shares with fellow Old Masters from Van Dyck and Vermeer to Romney and Reynolds—and re-presented in the Dining Room Lobby.

With all other artworks removed from the space, the self-portrait will be displayed in relative isolation. The painting will be accompanied by a new digital artwork comprised of selfies taken by visitors to Kenwood, arranged to replicate the original. 

Rembrandt’s timeless self-portrait will be pitted against the ephemeral images of the online world, contrasting the artist's self-scrutiny with the filtered images of the 'selfie age.' 

Wendy Monkhouse, Senior Curator at English Heritage, said:

“More than 350 years after it was painted, Self-Portrait with Two Circles still feels extraordinarily modern. The ideas of self-image and self-examination that it embodies are more relevant than ever in the context of the so-called ‘selfie’ age. 

“Whether they are selfie aficionado or novice, young or old, we want people to experience the portrait through the process of capturing their own image honestly, as Rembrandt captured his.”  

Helen Payne, from Friends of Kenwood, said:

“After the hugely successful display of the Rembrandt self-portrait at Gagosian in the spring, where it took the limelight and introduced the power of this finest of Rembrandt’s self-portraits to a new audience, we are excited that the painting will now have its own special focus through this free exhibition. 

“The Friends of Kenwood are pleased to be able to assist English Heritage in showing how one of the world's greatest old masters can engage in a contemporary way. This is a wonderful and imaginative way to illustrate how lucky we are to have such an outstanding art collection in north London.”

A Defining 'Selfie'

Rembrandt reinvented the genre of self-portraiture; the format was a significant portion of his repertoire which included around 80 self-portraits during his career. 

Described by the art critic Jonathan Jones as "a supreme work of art, the best we have", Self-portrait with Two Circles was painted when Rembrandt was 59 years old and is celebrated for its honesty. 

He is depicted in his studio, in the working clothes of an artist and holding a palette, brushes and mahlstick (hand support)the tools of his profession. 

There have been many theories about the choice to include two circles in the background of the work, one of which is that a perfect circle symbolises and demonstrates great artistic skill. Others suggest that the discs represent the hemispheres of the world, or have religious significance. 

Whether the painting was ever actually finished has also been a subject of debate over the years. Sir Joshua Reynolds said that the portrait had "a very unfinished manner" and it is neither signed nor dated, though this may be due to its lateness in Rembrandt's career. He was, by this time, a celebrity whose distinctive style was well recognised. 

Explore our new immersive article on the painting's history, technical brilliance and influences...

The self-portrait is a highlight of Kenwood's Iveagh Collection. In 1925, Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, bought the house. Four years later, he stipulated that Kenwood should be open free of charge to the public, including the display of 63 of Lord Iveagh's Old Master and British paintings. 

The collection also includes well-known works by Vermeer, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Turner. 

Kenwood is free to visit, and open 7 days a week. 

Plan your visit

The display is generously supported by the Friends of Kenwood

Art Lighting partner: TM Lighting

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