A new Rembrandt has been discovered—disguised as another artist’s work, potentially making the owners millionaires as it goes up for auction at Sotheby’s.
While unknown or lost works from the Dutch master painter have been found occasionally over the last three decades, they are mostly head portraits or character studies. This large Adoration of the Magi marks the first opportunity to learn more about the famous artist in a long time.
It is believed to date from Rembrandt’s very early professional days as a painter in Leiden.
Bought in 1985 and auctioned at Christie’s in Amsterdam in 2021, the auction house’s experts identified the painting as coming from the “Rembrandt circle,” and it was presumed to be from an apprentice or artist from the same time and place.
The buyer shelled out $860,000 even though the opening price was around $15,000. Set up for auction again—this time at Sotheby’s, a long and complex verification process that included multiple forms of scientific imaging has placed the painting not at the feet of an apprentice, but of the master himself, jacking the price up to around $18 million.
“I would say that it’s particularly significant because it adds to our understanding of Rembrandt at this crucial date in his development and career, when he was clearly very ambitious and developing very quickly as an artist,” George Gordon, co-chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide at Sotheby’s, said in a phone call with CNN.
The monochrome painting measures less than 10 inches tall.
A bit strangely, the historical research done on the painting showed it turned up in the 18th and 19th centuries when it was referenced as a painting by Rembrandt van Rijk.
Reappearing in the 1950s, it was still recognized by scholars as a Rembrandt work—and it even hung in museum collections, until a German art scholar who knew the painting only from a black and white photograph, referred to it as one of the “Rembrandt school” and omitted it from the critical art review catalog he was compiling—and it vanished from memory after.
“Very few narrative paintings by Rembrandt remain in private hands, making this an opportunity for a private collector or an institution that is as rare as it is exciting,” Gordon said in a news release.
“This sophisticated painting is in equal measure a product of Rembrandt’s brush and his intellect. All the hallmarks of his style in the late 1620s are evident both in the visible painted surface and in the underlying layers revealed by science, showing multiple changes in the course of its creation, and casting fresh light on how he thought,” he added.
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