The case of mistaken identity: Carel Fabritius as his master Rembrandt

The case of mistaken identity: Carel Fabritius as his master Rembrandt

Of all Rembrandt’s pupils, Fabritius was the only one to develop his own artistic style. In 1649 when he painted the portrait of Adam de Potter, the Amsterdam silk merchant, Fabritius had already gained recognition of his originality and independence of spirit. The portrait is now hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Although with a considerable debate forever sustaining, Portrait of a Seated Woman with a Handkerchief, also initially credited to Rembrandt, is now considered a work of Carel Fabritius. This Painting is now at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“Mercury and Argus,” a long-lost painting by Carel Fabritius, is now a part of the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Yet again credited to his master, scholars knew this painting through a 1764 copy by French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard which was sold in Paris as a Rembrandt.  Hidden away in private collections for more than 200 years, when this painting came up for sale in 1985, it was touted to be an important discovery by Sotheby’s determination that “Mercury and Argus” were actually by Fabritius. He had signed the picture, but his signature had been obscured, probably by someone who wanted to sell it as a more valuable Rembrandt.

After being generally accepted as being Rembrandt’s work for most of the first 300 years of her life on canvas, The Girl With the Broom now officially entitled as ‘Rembrandt Workshop (Possibly Carel Fabritius)’ in National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Other than that someone sold these paintings as Rembrandt’s to instantly appreciate its value, resources available also hints towards a different consideration. It seems that Rembrandt’s pupils, after finishing their education under him and had begun working independently and signing their own paintings, continued to help execute paintings to be sold under his name. The paintings they created in Rembrandt’s workshop were often free adaptations of the master’s own compositions and naturally bore his signature and the date. As they say, better late than never, Carl Fabritius has now finally found acknowledgment for his work but it may take longer for the world to perceive and remember him as the great painter he was.

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