The fact that The Catholic University of America in Washington has opened a free art exhibit in a gallery in its campus library may not sound unusual. On display through May 24 are items from the university’s own collection: drawings, etchings, engravings and woodcut prints created by American and European artists.
None of them has been displayed before, but the newsworthy thing about the exhibit is one etching in particular: an image of a tired 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,” continues a description on the back of the work, translated from French by doctoral student Paul Wesley Bush.
About a year ago those in the know confirmed it’s an authentic Rembrandt — but the university didn’t know what it had at first. It was just lying around under some junk on a bottom shelf in a restroom in Nugent Hall, according to the university’s PR people .
A press release said that Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, the university’s president, discovered it quite by accident in Nugent Hall, where his office is. He opened a cabinet in the restroom to find some paper towels and noticed on the bottom shelf something in a frame — “an etching that looked familiar to me. Why it was there or how it got there, I’ll never know .”
The priest showed the etching to Leslie Knoblauch, a university archvist, who contacted an appraiser. The appraiser confirmed it was a genuine Rembrandt. With Knoblauch, Bush put together the current exhibit: “Fine Lines: Discovering Rembrandt and Other Old Masters at Catholic University.”