We will never know!
When I was in Washington DC and recommended by a friend to see the Yusupov Rembrandts at the National Gallery of Art, I had no expectation it would be the start of a many years exploration into the meaning and history of those two famous portraits. What did it for me? Her eyes did it!
When I later interviewed Ernst van de Wetering, chair of the Rembrandt Research Project, I mentioned the exhibition I had just seen at the Royal Academy of Art in London, “Rembrandt’s Women” and my appreciation of a woman’s perspective on the painter. Van de Wetering dismissed the premise of this large exhibition mounted by Julia Lloyd Williams of National Galleries of Scotland. He said it was “a non-issue” and that even Ms. Williams had to admit that in the end, no one could determine what or how Rembrandt thought about women or anyone else, “only how he represented them.”
I had heard that before, “That the painting isn’t over until the viewer walks away.” For a long time, I stood in front of Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, looking at that face, those eyes. What was she thinking? What was going on in her life? What was happening next? What past experience or mistake was weighing her down? I studied the painting of her partner Portrait of a Gentleman with a Tall Hat and Gloves. I figured he wanted to know the same thing. Of course, I had no idea, but answers began to creep into my mind. That is how the book got started.
After over 14 years of research, writing, and thinking about is all, I still don’t know. But, maybe you will.