Christopher Brown looks forward to some of the exciting exhibitions coming to the Ashmolean Museum in 2014

This is my last year as the director of the Ashmolean and it promises to be as busy as ever. We have started the New Year by putting on display two major Old Master paintings which I hope will draw many visitors to the museum.

Firstly, the Ashmolean has just acquired a painting by the great 18th-century Venetian artist Francesco Guardi (1712–93) which has been allocated to the Ashmolean by the Arts Council under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme (which allows individuals to pay capital tax by giving a work of art to a public museum) with generous contributions from the Art Fund and private individuals.

The picture is an enchanting early view painting which shows the Fondamenta Nuove busy with small boats and gondolas, the island of San Michele and beyond the snow-capped Dolomites. It was painted for a British Grand Tourist in 1758, and is now on display in the Britain and Italy Gallery. This Guardi work is marvellously fresh and instinctually responsive to the beauty of his native city.

The second picture has been lent to the Ashmolean from a private collection and it is a particularly exciting event for me as a historian of Dutch and Flemish art. The Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet by Rembrandt van Rijn ranks amongst the finest Old Master paintings in this country. It has just been hung in the Mallet Gallery at the heart of our outstanding collection of great European paintings. Painted in 1657, it shows the 50-year-old Catrina Hooghsaet, who lived in Amsterdam. She was a member of a Mennonite — a radical Protestant community — and dressed in the restrained style they favoured. She was, however, a very wealthy woman and wears a rich silk dress with a lace collar and holds a tasselled lace handkerchief. She looks towards her pet parakeet, of which she was evidently very fond. The painting is one of the finest portraits ever made by Rembrandt. It is an enormous privilege to be able to show it at the Ashmolean where it can be seen by millions of visitors over the next few years.

The Ashmolean has a wonderfully diverse and exciting programme of exhibitions this year. We open in March with Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection. We will be showing 50 works by 19 artists who range from Gustave Courbet to Jacques Lipchitz, the great sculptor of the Cubist movement. Amongst the finest pieces are six oil paintings and 18 watercolours by Paul Cézanne, among them some of his very greatest works, as well as outstanding paintings by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masters which have never before been shown in Europe.

We hope that the museum’s summer exhibition will also prove to be a great draw. Discovering Tutankhamun, which opens in July, tells the story of Howard Carter’s expedition to the Valley of the Kings in 1922 which resulted in one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. The exhibition will include some of the finest art from the Valley of the Kings borrowed from around the world, the remarkable series of photographs by Harry Burton taken as the tomb was opened, and Carter’s diaries recording his growing excitement as he realised the significance of his discovery.