Autoportrait Rembrandt 1632
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Rembrandt’s self portrait on sale

by Pierre-Alain Lévy

A Rembrandt, a self-portrait, soon to be sold in London. The world of the art already wriggles for the sale which will take place at Sotheby’s London on July 28th and where a self-portrait of Rembrandt dating from 1632 will go on sale.

If there is one area that arouses the curiosity of the public and makes headlines in the newspapers, it is that of the trade in works of art or, to be more precise, that of these works revealed to be those authentic by the hand of great artists, on the occasion of their sales or an auction made public.

We sometimes oscillate between scientific considerations, proof brought, refined analyzes, debates of contradictory experts and it is very well thus, and desiderata, let’s say it all at once, of another order.

Nice surprises too and recognitions finally established

The work of Rembrandt (1606-1669) is well documented and has been the subject of considerable scientific research. The publication of the first volume in 1982 of a gigantic scientific corpus devoted to the work of Rembrandt, the Rembrandt Resarch Project is significant in this respect

The story of this self-portrait of Rembrandt dated 1632 is particularly interesting, it will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on July 28. Its estimate is given between $ 15 and $ 20 million it had been bought from £ 650.

As so often it starts as in a fairy tale but without it once upon a time…!

The self-portrait was thus bought during the Vinot sale which took place in Paris from January 26 to 30, 1891. Its buyer was Henry Brand, second Viconte Hampden, a British MP. On the back of the canvas is the name of the buyer and the specific day of purchase, January 29, 1891. The painting is 21.8 cm high by 16.3 cm wide.

Rembrandt’s self portrait 1632.

A second sale on April 8, 1970 at Sotheby’s in London. As the work had not been published at the time, the portrait is sold as “attributed to Rembrandt“, a semantic, legal nuance and of considerable value if any. The art historian Gary Schwartz reports that the auction house then indicated in its description and the attribution of the work: “Portrait of Rembrandt” by REMBRANDT, and not “Portrait of the artist” with the indication of attribution by REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN. In addition, an absence of publicity on this work, suggesting a lack of interest from the auctioneers. For the record and on a completely different subject, that of literature for example, books such as “Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust, yet the greatest publishing success of all time, have not been understood by the first publishers to whom they were presented and who refused them!

This self-portrait was bought in April 1970 by Parisian art dealer Jacques O. Leegenhoek for £ 650. The Rembrandt Resarch Project was reluctant to give the allocation to Rembrandt. For the buyer, however, it is indeed an authentic Rembrandt. And time flies…

Time of loneliness for the buyer

Not wanting to get rid of a work he likes but badly considered, the merchant and buyer Jacques O. Leegenhoek offered the self-portrait of Rembrandt to his wife. This small painting will initially decorate the family kitchen on avenue Kleber home in Paris until 1982, then will join the picture rails of the apartment they own on Quai Voltaire above their antiquity store. The painting is known by some of their visitors who passed by without being interested.

In 1977 the Rembrandt Research Project as part of an international study re-examined the said self-portrait. Of five people who have to give their opinion, one voice speaks in favor of authenticity, that of Ernst van de Wetering, Dutch art historian, specialist in the painted and engraved work of Rembrandt.

The five experts, including Bob Haak, one of the founders of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), examined the work very carefully. Everything goes, the comparisons between Rembrandt’s authenticated paintings and workshop paintings, the costume worn by the character, the style, the quality and the touches of paint.

Of course, this portrait is signed and dated, these indications appear halfway up on the right side. Thus one can read: « Rembrant. fv. / 1632 “and were affixed without any doubt to the still wet painting, therefore at the very moment of the creation of the work by the artist and not a posteriori, not after it was painted, an important piece of information to establish authenticity.

In addition, the spelling of the name of Rembrant without the penultimate D is not disturbing. Thus we know three works that Rembrandt painted between 1632 and 1633 and which were signed with this spelling. Rembrandt at this time is in his period of social ascension and knows a great success, his paintings are prized, the leading citizens of Amsterdam or Leiden liked to come in his workshop to pose to be painted, as they also did with the great and famous portrait painter of the time, the eldest, Franz Haals. It is that having one’s portrait painted by a great master is not only the expression of a rise to social power but above all the sign of recognition of notoriety.

At the same time for the artist, the multiplicity of self-portraits that we know of him could be interpreted as an indicator of celebrity, a kind of publicity. He slowly becomes the fashionable painter. It is for Rembrandt the time of happiness, the one where he meets Saskia with whom he will marry on June 22, 1634.

An acme that will not last long, the time of a happy marriage. Rembrandt in love with the beautiful Saskia his dearly loved wife, that of the birth of the caring son, the charming Titus, who also became a painter and worked in his father’s workshop. This is the time for success and lavish wealth and welcome, you must take advantage of it.

The outcome of The Night watch will put an end to all this happiness. Then will begin the time of unhappiness, mourning, poverty, loneliness and also resilience, with Hendrickje Stoffels, the good servant-mistress.

In 1977 the Rembrandt Research Project as part of an international study re-examined the said self-portrait. Of five people who have to give their opinion, one voice speaks in favor of authenticity, that of Ernst van de Wetering, Dutch art historian, specialist in the painted and engraved work of Rembrandt.

The five experts, including Bob Haak, one of the founders of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), examine the work very carefully. Everything goes, the comparisons between Rembrandt’s authenticated paintings and workshop paintings, the costume worn by the character, the style, the quality and the touches of paint.

1997, times have changed, the time is no longer blasé indifference, you need to know more about this painting on wood, above all you have to be able to date it, modern scientific and imaging techniques now allow it.

This self portrait was on show at different exhibitions:
Rembrandt by himself/Rembrandt zelf, 5 juin 1999–5 septembre 1999, National Gallery, Londres, 25 septembre 1999–9 janvier 2000, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, La Haye, Cat.n° 34.
Rembrandt en Uylenburgh, handel in meesterwerken, 16 septembre 2006–10 décembre 2006, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam. 

This self-portrait will be sold for $ 2,500,000 by Mrs. Leegenhoek, then shortly after put on sale in September 2005 at the Tefaf in Maastricht (International Art fair) on the Noortman gallery, it will reach a price of $ 10 million.

To expand knowledge of this painting, the RRP expert college decided with the new owner’s agreement to have a dendrochronology examination of the portrait. In other words, to date with precision to the year near the wood panel by analyzing the morphology of the growth rings of the wood. It is a scientific method which also serves to know the climatic history by thus examining the growth of tree rings, therefore of woods, evolving according to temperature differences for example according to the seasons.

The painting is entrusted to the great specialist in this technique, Professor Peter Klein in Hamburg. The analysis will last three years. When he presents his conclusions, the surprise will be great. The wooden panel on which this self-portrait is painted comes from the same tree that Rembrandt used for the portrait of Maurits Huygens, an undisputed Rembrandt and today exhibited at the Hamburg Kunsthalle.

Dendrochronology examination permitted to conclude these two paintings by Rembrandt were painted on panels of wood coming from the same tree. On the left Rembrandt’s self portrait, on the right portrait of Maurits Huygens

Generally speaking, in the authentication of a painting, or on the contrary what sometimes happens, in the attribution of the authorship of a work, there are a few questions to ask.

Of course the considerations on the support materials, wood or canvas, the origin and the quality of the paintings or pigments used, technical, pictorial and style are essential, and to this are added the examination of the signature (when it exists) historical knowledge in a temporal sense, of the artist’s contemporary painters as workshop painters. Sometimes the same work could in its time be reproduced, or even taken up by several hands of artists. All the details of iconographic representation count, some of which provide indications of history.

New scientific imaging techniques, at work in the largest museums in the world (and of which the C2RMF at the Louvre in Paris is exemplary), namely surface 3D, tomography, hyperspectral imaging, High Definition photography, have become modes. nothing less than perfect exploration. These imaging techniques make it possible in particular to see what the human eye does not perceive, that is to say to see under the layer of paint, to discover repentance, the first drafts, possible repairs, the different layers of paint.

The documentary space allows to historize the work itself as well as all elements of biography of the artist, knowledge of the time and the society in which he evolves. Correspondences, commercial scriptural data, letters of order, the exhibition catalogs are very rich sources in this respect. The experts themselves by their reputation contribute to the emergence or not of the work of which they have to know.

We would not want to forget any other aspect attached to the notoriety of an artist or his paintings, namely the societal factor, that is to say what relates to subliminal pressure than the success of an artist or the value of his work can bring the air of nothing to the feeling of the expert who must decide. We will certainly not fail to mention the art market and its trends which can exert certain influences. In this regard we have dealt in WUKALI on several occasions with the Salvator Mundi affair, attributed with risk to Leonardo da Vinci, and in homothetic symmetry opposed to the weight of the breathtaking money supply from its sale …

Note moreover that if from the start of this case we contested the attribution to Leonardo and provided the evidence; it is clear that after the media storm around the overwhelming price of its sale, the new looks that surround it are nothing less than circumspect and give us reason …

Before concluding, there are many examples of attribution translation in the history of art from one artist to another. Among the best known are Titian’s Country concert, a time attributed to his master Giorgione. The most famous example, but this time outside the field of painting, is in music the famous Albinoni’s Adagio (1671-1751) and actually composed in 1945 by a certain Remo Giazotto, but it is there is another story.

So see you in July to find out the price of this self-portrait sold in London!

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