A painting of a young man bought at a London auction house has been identified as the work of Rembrandt, making it the first unknown painting by the Dutch master to turn up in 44 years.
Amsterdam art dealer and historian Jan Six discovered the painting, which dates from around 1634 and may be part of a large double portrait. He bought the work, undated and unsigned, 18 months ago at an auction at Christie’s in London.
Six argues the case for the painting in the new book Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Gentleman, which is published today by Prometheus in Dutch and English. In the book he outlines the historical research and technical investigation which prove the painting was not produced by one of Rembrandt’s pupils or followers, but by the 28-year-old master himself.
Ernst van de Wetering, the former leader of the Rembrandt Research Project (RPP) and widely acknowledged as the world’s foremost expert on Rembrandt, supports Six’s claim. In addition, 15 other conservators and art historians from inside and outside the Netherlands agree that the oil painting is by Rembrandt himself.
The portrait, measuring 94.5 cm by 73.5 cm, was taken to Christie’s by a member of the British nobility and the painting had been in his family’s possession for at least six generations. The auction house described it in the catalogue as the work of „the school of Rembrandt” and estimated it would fetch between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds sterling.
Six says he had found an investor who was prepared to spend „millions” on the painting, based on his hunch. That proved not to be necessary. He was able to buy the portrait for 137,000 pounds, or some €156,000. Today, Six plans to sell the portrait and won’t discuss the price tag. But he does speak of „a life-changing discovery”.
The ‘Portrait of Young Gentleman’ has a lot in common with ‘Marten’, the male half of the Rembrandt wedding portraits of Marten and Oopjen, bought by the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum three years ago from the Rothschild family for €160m. Researchers at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum who had worked on the wedding portrait project, shared their expertise with Six. He also had paint samples analysed and studied the work using x-rays and other scanners.
Six concludes in his book that no-one but Rembrandt could have painted the portrait: the primer, the pigments, the brush strokes, the method of composition are all similar to those found in other works painted by Rembrandt around 1634.
In addition, says Six, none of Rembrandt’s pupils in that period were capable of producing such a high-quality portrait. The date can be determined by the young man’s French lace collar, which was fashionable around 1633 to 1635.
Six writes in the book that once you accept the ‘Portrait of a Young Gentleman’ is by the Dutch master, it has the same effect that virtually every other work by Rembrandt has: „It becomes an iconic image which brings with it memories, and a feeling of recognition,” he writes.
Ernst van de Wetering, who has researched Rembrandt for 50 years, wrote the foreword to Six’s book. The distinguished professor describes the newly discovered work as „one of Rembrandt’s most masterly portraits”.
Four years ago Van de Wetering published a new catalogue of Rembrandt’s oeuvre. The discovery of ‘Portrait of a Young Gentleman’ puts the total number of known Rembrandt works at 342. It was 1974 that the last completely unknown Rembrandt was discovered – a small early work known as ‘The Baptism of the Eunuch’.
Art dealer Jan Six is himself a descendent of the Amsterdam mayor Jan Six who was painted by Rembrandt – a portrait which hangs in the family home to this day. He says he is delighted that the news about his find is finally out. „I’d lost count of the number of times I was cycling to the restorer thinking ‘I want to tell the world about this’.”
‘Portrait of a Young Gentleman’ is on show at the Hermitage in Amsterdam from tomorrow for one month.