We are saddened to announce the passing of Ernst van de Wetering on August 11, 2021 in Amsterdam. As a leading Rembrandt scholar, he was one of the founding members of the Rembrandt Research Project (1968), along with J. Bruyn, Bob Haak, S. H. Levie and P. J. J. van Thiel; he brought it to completion with volumes Five and Six (2015). He was Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, and among his honors are the Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University (2002-2003), Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion (2003), and Silver Museum Medal of the City of Amsterdam (2011). In 2020, he was made an honorary member of the Association of Dutch Art Historians. To acknowledge his international stature to the Historians of Netherlandish Art, we have gathered reminiscences contributed by our members. These are presented here in lieu of a formal obituary, several of which have appeared in the New York Times (September 5, 2021), The Economist (August 28, 2021), major Dutch newspapers and other publications.
Professor and Chair of Art History before 1800, Utrecht University
Like many others, I will never forget the first lecture by Ernst that I heard. At a tender age, I had trained as an artist but decided the profession was not for me. Academic art history, I felt, tended to miss the point: the objects faded away behind the interpretation. But here was Ernst, flourishing a pointing stick in front of his glorious close-up slides, in order to explain why seventeenth-century artists spent so much effort on the depiction of satin. In contrast to the artists or high school teachers who had previously instructed me, this man had something real to offer. His soft-voiced eloquence, so elegantly capturing visual experience into words, did not hide his debt to that other Ernst who wrote Art and Illusion. Gombrich had handed him the key to understand Rembrandt as master of illusionism. The Dutch and Austrian Ernsts had met repeatedly, which makes it safe to say that Van de Wetering can be considered the last great art historian of the Viennese School. An epoch has come to an end.
Alison M. Kettering
William R. Kenan Professor of Art History Emerita, Carleton College Past Editor in Chief of the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art
In the fall of 1990, during the first of my many off-campus studies programs to Amsterdam, Ernst gave a series of detailed lectures on the practice and especially the theory of conservation to my students. As a complement, he took us all to the Rijksmuseum where he led discussions in front of the greatest of the Rembrandt paintings there. Later that term, he invited members of the group to join him and his grad students for dinner at his place. For subsequent programs, he continued to offer his expertise. We all were simply amazed at his generosity to these American undergrads!
Director Emeritus Museum Catharijneconvent
It has been almost half a century since I visited an elderly lady in Nijmegen who had inherited a painting of the Baptism of the Eunuch from her father. The color scheme reminded me of the later work of Pieter Lastman but the style and figures pointed more towards Rembrandt’s early work. I started to study the young Rembrandt and it became increasingly clear to me that the painting in Nijmegen was an early work by Rembrandt. When, some months later, I was able to visit the lady again, I told her that I suspected she had a Rembrandt on the wall. This frightened her and she thought it was better that the piece should be transferred as soon as possible to the Archbishop’s Museum, where I was curator. When I showed photos first to Horst Gerson and then to the members of the Rembrandt Research Project, most of them had great doubts. Only Bob Haak and Ernst van de Wetering thought that it could well be an early work by Rembrandt. When Ernst saw more photos, he spoke the words: “Henri, I believe you have a bite.” At his advice, further research and technical investigation were done. After that, the other members of the RRP and Gerson were convinced that it was an authentic Rembrandt. Ernst remained involved in the panel’s research and had an important voice in its restoration. This event created a close friendship between Ernst and me. Many years later, in 2001 when I retired as director of the Museum Catharijneconvent, the museum wanted to have me portrayed and I suggested that he be commissioned. I had to pose for him a number of times. The result was a lively portrait, which bears witness to our mutual friendship and appreciation.
Lecturer, University of Connecticut
I was fortunate to participate in the Amsterdam-Maastricht Summer University course, Historic Painting Techniques in Oil: The Confrontation Between Rembrandt and Rubens, 2007, co-taught by Ernst with Nico van Hout at the Rijksmuseum studios. During our visit to the Mauritshuis, I fondly remember Ernst gesticulating so wildly inches before a Rembrandt painting that a guard—who did not know who this loud, jovial man was—almost kicked him out of the museum. In the top-floor painting studio of the Rembrandthuis, Ernst enthusiastically described Rembrandt’s technique using the maulstick and easel on display. He had our entire class in stitches, and we appreciated his personality, humor, and joy of his larger-than-life presence. One had the feeling one was in the presence of Rembrandt reincarnated.
Former Chief Curator and Director of Research, Nationalmuseum Stockholm
I have very dear and strong memories of Ernst van de Wetering especially in connection with The Rembrandt exhibition in Nationalmuseum, Stockholm in 1992. He gave me a very generous support in sharing his knowledge and helping me to solve questions concerning the Master and his pupils. My thoughts are with his family and friends.
Blaise Ducos, Ph. D.
Conservateur en chef, Départment des Peintures, Musée du Louvre
When I arrived at the Louvre in the spring of 2005, the museum had no event scheduled for the Rembrandt year of 2006. We quickly realized that we had to organize study days on our Rembrandt (and Rembrandtesque) collection. Following the advice of the then director of the Fondation Custodia, Maria van Berge, we reached out to Ernst. His help, counsel and participation in the event were a driving force, and I believe gave us new momentum. I must say that meeting Ernst in such a context was unforgettable. Later on, we organized with Lloyd DeWitt and the Philadelphia Museum of Art the exhibition “Rembrandt et la figure du Christ” (2011). This gave me the opportunity to tour the show with Ernst, which was quite an experience: his vast knowledge and strong opinions granted a rich conversation on this topic which had not previously been addressed in an exhibition.
Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Distinguished Curator and Lecturer, Princeton University Art Museum
Ernst endeared himself to me when I was a graduate student in Amsterdam, as he reached out with warmth and kindness, extending these qualities to our later frequent meetings. I have a vivid memory of sitting with Ernst outside the Mauritshuis during the run of the Vermeer exhibition there and talking with him about the difficulty of pinning down and understanding early Dou. Over the years, we visited together with many colleagues the various exhibitions on Rembrandt, and he enriched these occasions with much discussion, often intense.