Rembrandt van Rijn (attributed to) (1606-1669)
Portrait of Rembrandt's Father (c. 1630)
oil on panel, 10.63 x 8.66 in. (27 x 22 cm)
Portrait of Rembrandt’s Father was owned by Anna Jaffé (née Gluge) a Belgian Jewish art collector who inherited the collection that she and her husband John Jaffé had created, upon his death. Generally attributed to the Dutch master by scholars, the portrait is believed to be that of an elderly gentleman and not the artist’s actual father.
Anna grew up in academic circles, as her father was a professor and at one point the doctor to the King of Belgium. On June 3, 1873, she married the Northern Irish linen merchant John Jaffé in Brussels. John’s father Daniel was the founder of the Jewish community in Belfast and a successful tradesman, while his brother Sir Otto Jaffé became Belfast’s first Jewish Lord Mayor. The couple eventually settled in Nice, France, where they lived in the Villa Jaffé at 38, Promenade des Anglais for decades. They were avid art collectors and owned works by Goya, Fragonard, Constable, Turner and, of course, Rembrandt—Portrait of Rembrandt’s Father hung in the couple’s bedroom. Their villa hosted many artists and writers, including Henry James and Marcel Proust, and they would often lend out parts of their collection to museums for exhibition. They were notable patrons of the Musée Masséna. On May 3, 1934, the couple was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the mayor of Nice himself for their contributions and generosity.
Tragically, John Jaffé died only days later, at the age of ninety-one. Anna would live until March 1942, sadly dying under the Vichy regime, which collaborated with Nazi authorities and persecuted Jews. Her death signaled the end of her collection. The couple had never had children and therefore had planned to leave their estate to various state institutions, but the anti-Semitic property laws being brought forth changed her mind, and she left everything to her niece and three nephews. Her niece and a nephew were trapped in German-occupied France, another nephew perished in Auschwitz, and the third nephew had immigrated to New York. However, after Anna’s death, her villa and all its contents, including the collection of approximately two hundred works of art, were seized by local Vichy authorities and sold the following year, at the encouragement of prominent Nazi art dealer Karl Haberstock. The Jaffé collection was auctioned off in a forced sale ordered by the French State Jewish Commission (Commissariat aux questions juives de l’Etat Français) at Nice’s Hôtel du Savoy on July 12-13, 1943. Portrait of Rembrandt’s Father was lot no. 133.
Anna’s nephew Gustave Cohen made several restitution inquiries after the war, but to no avail. Cohen’s grandson and Anna’s great-grand-nephew Alain Monteagle continued restitution efforts with some recent successes. In 2006, the Kimbell Art Museum returned to the Jaffé heirs JMW Turner’s Glaucus and Scylla which the Kimbell Art Foundation repurchased from the heirs the following year in a Christie’s auction in New York. In 2015, a painting by Italian artist Vincenzo Chilone was discovered. It had been at auction in London and purchased by an Italian collector. An agreement was reached between the current owner and the Jaffé heirs for its return.
Portrait of Rembrandt’s Father has not been seen since the auction in Nice in 1943. It was supposedly in the possession of Haberstock, who, according to his secretary, deposited it with Galerie Paul Pétridès prior to it being with another dealer and then disappearing.