A recently unearthed painting, initially attributed to a different artist, has been identified as a previously unknown work by Rembrandt. This unexpected discovery has the potential to significantly increase the value of the artwork, potentially resulting in substantial financial gains for its current owners as it is set to be auctioned at Sotheby's. This painting depicting the birth of Jesus, estimated at $15K, is a monumental Rembrandt worth $18 million.
Over the past three decades, sporadic discoveries of previously undiscovered or misplaced artworks by the Dutch master painter have primarily consisted of head portraits or character studies. This expansive depiction of the Adoration of the Magi is a significant occasion to acquire further insights into the renowned artist after a prolonged period of limited access to such information.
Full size The Adoration of the Kings by Rembrandt – Sotheby’s
J.C.H. Heldring, a collector, bought it in Amsterdam in 1955. In 1985, his widow sold it to a German family, who owned it until Christie's in Amsterdam sold it two years ago.
Christie's assessed the biblical scene's value at between €10,000 and €15,000 ($10,600 and $15,800) at the time of the sale, attributing it to the "Circle of Rembrandt," which suggests it was executed by a pupil or artist close to the famed painter.
The 9.6 by 7.3-inch (24.5 x 18.5-centimeter) monochromatic painting was purchased for €860,000 ($908,000) at the Christie's auction by an unidentified buyer.
In a press release from Sotheby's, they said the painting has become "a work of great significance" by the Dutch artist and is now expected to fetch millions more. That was more than 50 times the painting's estimated value at the time.
The auction house started an 18-month investigation into the painting's genuine origin and value after the unknown buyer consigned it to them.
Sotheby's came to the conclusion that the picture is "an autograph work by Rembrandt" after conducting a thorough investigation that included x-rays, infrared imaging, and conversations with top Rembrandt researchers. The work is now valued at between £10 and £15 million ($12.2 and $18.3 million).
The auction house thinks Rembrandt, who would have been approximately 22 at the time and was residing in the Dutch city of Leiden, painted it early in his career, around 1628.
Most of Rembrandt's paintings are on display in museums throughout the globe, and the majority of those that have been put up for sale in the last 30 years "have been portraits or studies of single character heads," according to the Sotheby's statement.
George Gordon, co-chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide at Sotheby's, told CNN that "The Adoration of the Kings," which depicts the meeting of the Three Wise Men and the infant Jesus, represents a "fantastic opportunity" in the art world.
He explained this in a phone interview with CNN, saying: "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."
The earliest mention of the artwork appears to come from Constantijn Ranst, an Amsterdam-based collector, who kept an inventory in 1714. Then it was put up for sale in 1814 and 1822, following which it vanished from view until the middle of the 20th century.
Leading Rembrandt scholars exhibited it and cited it as a Rembrandt creation in the 1950s, but Kurt Bauch, a German art historian who only had a black-and-white photograph of the painting, described it as a product of the Rembrandt School in 1960 and left it off of the catalogue raisonné he was compiling. Later, the work was "entirely overlooked and completely ignored in the Rembrandt literature," according to Sothebys.
At the Christie's sale in 2021, Gordon told CNN, the bidders "must have thought it was much better than the description and that it might well be a Rembrandt."
According to the auction firm, Sotheby's detailed inspection showed several alterations and adjustments made by Rembrandt, including to the Virgin Mary's headpiece and the baby Jesus' halo.
Currently on display at Sotheby's in Hong Kong, the painting will next travel to New York, Los Angeles, and London before being auctioned off on December 6 in London.