From the museum press release, 3 April 2012
Kenwood House, the London museum that holds the art collection known as the Iveagh Bequest, is closed for renovations until fall 2013. By special arrangement, Rembrandt’s Portrait of the artist (ca. 1665), which has never before traveled outside Europe, is on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 20, 2012. This great canvas now hangs next to the Metropolitan Museum’s own Self-portrait by Rembrandt of 1660, providing a rare opportunity to compare the two works which, although close in date, are utterly different in scale, format, and expression. Both were painted during a period of economic difficulties for the artist. The loan is also an occasion for the Museum to bring together in one gallery the late Rembrandts from the collection, including Aristotle with a bust of Homer (1653), Hendrickje Stoffels (mid-1650s), The Standard Bearer (1654), and Woman with a Pink (ca. 1660-64).
Throughout his career Rembrandt painted, etched, and drew himself in various guises and for different purposes. Two of his earliest self-portraits, both of 1629, are currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum in the exhibition Rembrandt and Degas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Like his early self-portrait prints, the early painted self-portraits were studies of expression and naturalistic effects, intended more as works of art than as records of an individual.
As a celebrated artist in Amsterdam during the 1630s and early 1640s, Rembrandt painted self-portraits that were not only collectors’ items but also public statements about his artistic stature, inventiveness, and emulation of great masters of the past such as Dürer, Raphael, and Titian. In contrast, the late self-portraits (ca. 1650–69) seem more straightforward and show the aging artist in everyday attire, with a beret or a linen studio cap. Dating from about 1665, Rembrandt’s Portrait of the Artist is justly renowned as one of the most haunting masterpieces by the artist. Grand in size, it is exceptional in showing the artist in work clothes holding his painter’s palette, brushes, and maulstick before two circles inscribed on the wall behind him.