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Something that is typical of Rembrandt is the different degrees of elaboration within his paintings. While the facial features are finely modelled in detail, his coat is merely outlined. This gives the state of mind captured in the face an immense presence. In his numerous self-portraits, however, Rembrandt obviously did not have the analysis of himself in mind. Rather, he wanted to paint gripping, and thus marketable, pictures. At which he was very successful, for his self-portraits became sought-after collector’s items far beyond his own lifetime.
You always meet twice
The stories of paintings are always stories of people too. Of the fates that have befallen them and the historical entanglements
Rembrandt self-portrait was purchased in 1761 by the Margravine Karoline Louise von Barden and it’s been one of the gems of the Kunsthalle collection from the very beginning. To save the precious painting from possible bomb damage during the Second World War it was stored in 1944 along with many of the Kunsthalle other works in the salt mines in Heilbronn. It was rediscovered there at the end of the war by American soldiers.
The soldiers were from The Monuments Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Allied Armies. The Monuments Men as they were known, were a group assigned to the protection of cultural assets during and after the war. A kind of Red Cross for the Arts. They were art historians and conservators and from 1943 to 1946 they led the fight against destruction and for the restitution of looted or stored artworks.
So in fact the Monuments Men could be thought of as art histories first provenance researchers. In their search for Nazi plunder they unearthed underground security depos in which the German museums had stored their collections. They brought the artworks to collecting points where they were sorted according to their places of origin and investigated as to their provenance. Take a look at your player what you can see here is the rediscovery of the Rembrandt self-portrait by the Monuments Men in 1945. The GI on the right is Harry Ettlinger a Karlsruher Jew who was forced to leave Germany as a 12 year old and emigrate with his parents to the USA. At the end of the war he returned as a Monuments Man and among other things acted as interpreter for the group.
Ettlingers grandfather had been a member of the Karlsruher Art Association and had made a collection of the pieces that he received annually as the bonus for membership. This was how he came to possess an etching by Walter Conz copied from Rembrandts painting in the Kunsthalle. His grandson loved this etching but since Jews were forbidden by the Nazi regime to enter public museums he was never able to see the original Rubens painting in the Kunsthalle. So in the end he first set eyes on the famous work from his native city in the salt mine of Heilbronn.
George Clooney, the American actor and director, commemorated Harry Ettlinger and the Monuments Men with his film of 2014. In the same year the Kunsthalle invited the former officer of Cultural Protection to Karlsruhe. Harry Ettlinger finally had the opportunity to take along and close look at the painting he once discovered and rescued from a salt mine.