The Catholic University of America

Jan. 11, 2010

New Exhibit Features Mysterious Rembrandt Etching Found in Nugent Hall

  The Rembrandt etching found by Father O’Connell in a Nugent Hall bathroom.
When CUA doctoral student Paul Wesley Bush first saw the university's Rembrandt etching in January 2009, he wondered if it was real. He studied the print, turned it over and on the back read a handwritten inscription in French, which included the 17th-century Dutch painter's name. Could it be an actual Rembrandt?

Fluent in French, Bush pored over the faded words written on paper backing that was crumbly and darkened with age. The inscription noted that the picture was “the bust of an old man with a great beard seen about most of the face … His head a little perched gives him … the attitude of a man who sleeps.”

A month later, Bush was talking to Leslie Knoblauch, CUA's records management archivist, who told him that an appraiser had confirmed the piece as an original Rembrandt. Bush, who had helped Knoblauch install CUA's papal exhibit last year, suggested that they develop an exhibit focused on the Rembrandt and then invite students to create their own artwork in response to it.

This morning, the exhibit, “Fine Lines: Discovering Rembrandt and Other Old Masters at Catholic University,” was unveiled at the May Gallery in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs through May 24.
The exhibit also includes several other works of similar genre: drawings, etchings, engravings and woodcut prints by American and European artists that have never before been displayed. All the pieces are part of Catholic University's Museum Collection.
"It's one of those amazing stories," says Bush, 28, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in medieval history. "You hear a story about a Rembrandt lying around. It seems too good to be true. You don’t want to get your hopes up."
The Rembrandt was, in fact, "lying around" when it was discovered on campus by Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., shortly after he was appointed CUA’s president. In notes that are part of the exhibit, Father O'Connell explains that he discovered the piece while looking for paper towels in Nugent Hall, which serves as the office of the president.

Records management archivist Leslie Knoblauch and doctoral student Paul Wesley Bush set up the exhibit.

"I went into the restroom in Nugent Hall and opened a cabinet there," he notes. "I found the paper towels but as I was closing the cabinet door, I noticed on the bottom shelf under some junk, a picture frame jutting out. I bent down, pulled out the frame only to discover an etching that looked familiar to me. Why it was there or how it got there, I’ll never know."
During his lifetime, Rembrandt was renowned for his etchings, which he produced with a needle and copper plates. Etchings are created by drawing with a needle onto a resin-coated plate. The plate is then immersed in acid and the needle lines are cut, or etched, into the plate. 
Last January, Father O'Connell showed Knoblauch the etching, which measures 4.5 by 5 inches, and asked her to have it appraised. Knoblauch contacted appraiser Allan Stypeck, president of Second Story Books. While waiting to hear from Stypeck, Knobaluch asked Bush to translate the French writing on the back of the piece.
Last Feb. 11, Stypeck informed Knoblauch that the piece was authentic. "It's always really exciting as an archivist when you find something so interesting," Knoblauch says. "The exhibit enables us to show people on campus some of the treasures at Catholic University."
Bush says he proposed putting together an exhibit because of the university's First Year Experience program for new students. "There was a lot of talk then about the First Year Experience and I thought an exhibit would be a good way to expose students to art and history."
To engage students, Bush and Knoblauch sought the expertise of Nora Heimann, chair of the Department of Art who is working on another exhibit that will go up in the spring at CUA's Salve Regina Gallery. As part of the later exhibit, all CUA students will be invited to create their own art work inspired by the Rembrandt exhibition.
The juried student exhibit will open April 19 at CUA’s Salve Regina Gallery. The three students who create the top pieces in the exhibit will receive awards in memory of the professor's mother, Jeanne M. Heimann, a potter and community volunteer, who passed away last year. Nora Heimann's brother and sister-in-law, Christopher and Cynthia Heimann, both CUA graduates, are funding the first-place prize of $100 and the two second-place prizes of $25 each.

The current exhibit also features two engravings of Abraham Lincoln photos taken by famed Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady: one by Scottish artist and engraver Alexander Hay Ritchie and the other by American John Chester Buttre, whose work includes a steel-plate engraving of a full-length portrait of President James Buchanan.
Additional exhibit pieces now on display at the May Gallery include a watercolor copy of a print of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein; two black-and-white engravings by English artist William E.C. Morgan; and six woodcut prints by Julius John Lankes, an American artist whose works are included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the British Museum.
MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.