Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Remains of a "Not by Rembrandt"...

Had it happened when the market itself seemed less mad, the recent sale of a painting at an auction outside London might have been evidence of the madness of its buyer. But given how unpredictable the market seems at the moment overall, it's possibly a very shrewd move on the buyer's part. In case you haven't heard yet, here's the story via artinfo.com:


A museum in the Netherlands said the portrait was not by Rembrandt, and the provincial auction house in England was only advertising it as a work by one of his followers valued at $3,078.

But when 15 minutes of bidding on the painting ended Friday, it had sold for $4.5 million. [...]

The Young Rembrandt as Democrates the Laughing Philosopher, a 9.5-by-6.5 inch portrait of a young man, had hung in a local home for years.

The unidentified winning bidder may have concluded that it was a self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn, despite expert opinion.

The 17th-century Dutch artist painted a series of self-portraits. About 40 are recognized as his work, but others are believed to have been copies made by his students.

Allwood, the auctioneer for Moore, Allen & Innocent, said the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the unidentified owner of the oil painting that was sold Friday had concluded it was not by Rembrandt.

The auction house advertised the work as by a follower of Rembrandt.
The most interesting twist of this story as being reported seems to be the speculation that the buyer actually might know something the experts do not:


Jan Six, a Dutch art expert with Sotheby's auction house in Amsterdam, said Sotheby's was an adviser for a potential buyer who did not win the painting.

"Nobody pays 2.2 million (pounds, $4.5 million) for a follower of Rembrandt. If this was a known Rembrandt and was published in 20 books and had a great provenance it would go for 10 million (pounds, $21 million)," Six said Saturday.

He said the palette and pose of the painting were very characteristic of Rembrandt, and that the face was clearly his.

If the portrait is one day accepted as a Rembrandt, the buyer will have a bargain.

In January, a Rembrandt painting, Saint James the Greater, sold for $25.8 million at Sotheby's in New York.
It's tough to defend the cult of personality that defines the "value" of so much art in light of episodes like this one. The ultimate market determinator (that so many well-informed people wanted it, the price went up) doesn't distinguish the difference for us here. There are auction flukes, of course, where two determined buyers drive prices up to insane heights out of stubborness, but there is this little voice in the back of my head, shyly raising its hand, wanting to ask whether or not this might just not be the first crack in the cult of personality's armor...whether we might not be witnessing the birth of a fine art market meritocracy. Shhhh...you silly little voice. If anything it's more likely the birth of Xtreme speculation where someone with an expert-for-hire in pocket will declare the other experts are wrong and it is indeed a long-lost self-portrait.

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15 Comments:

Blogger hovie said...

The work is here.

10/30/2007 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

cool...thanks Hovie...couldn't find it myself, but have added it now.

10/30/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Well, it looks like a Rembrandt to me. I'd have paid three thousand dollars for it in a heartbeat.

10/30/2007 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

(That's not sarcasm. Three thousand dollars is probably the same percentage of my net worth as 4.5 mil was for the actual buyer.)

10/30/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Technique, lighting and facial features appear dead-on. It would be nice to get a look at the brushwork. I'm not aware of any (other) Rembrandt portrait that shows this kind of emotion or tilted-back head.

Anyone know any examples?

10/30/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I seem to think there were a couple like this on view in Simon Schama's show on Rembrandt. Which was pretty excellent.

I find it amusing that anyone would still put their faith in the opinions of art experts after Clifford Irving's Fake and Orson Welles' F for Fake. I find it refreshing that whoever bid the painting up decided experts don't know squat.

10/30/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger hovie said...

Tough call. At first the laugh reminded me of Hals, but I can see why someone would think Rembrandt. It has some nice moments for a small study, like the highlight on the leather collar and the sunlight on the forehead. The modeling of the cheeks and jaw fascinate me too. Hell, so do the eyes. The more I look at it the more interesting it gets. I would have loved to see it completed, with more of those famous warm Rembrandt colors fleshing out the face.

BTW there's a theory that Rembrandt had a lazy eye (or at least a habit of drawing his eyes in a certain way), and it looks like one of the eyes in this study looks outward too (the one to our left). Which might be an interesting piece of evidence for someone. If it's not by Rembrandt it's still an enjoyable piece, whatever its worth.

10/30/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

I find the head Rembrandt-OK, apart from the rougher lights on the cheekbone. Quite not like Rembrandt to me - the sharp almost graphical contrast of the body against the background. Compare it to this Rembrandt here:
http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/17c/graphics/large/Rembrandt.jpg

10/30/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger hovie said...

Hans - It might be because it's not a finished work, only a study. I'm not an expert in Rembrandt, but if he painted in grisaille as a rule, then it's highly likely that the colors of the face and background simply haven't been added over the underpainting yet. At least that's my guess from the photo. The sunlight on the top of the head is the best example of the Rembrandt effect you're describing. After all the color washes were applied, I think you would have seen those warm honey-amber tones that you're looking for.

10/30/2007 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

Hovie- I don't think it's unfinished. (Not a Rembrandt specialist myself...)

I think it's a Frans Hals. There is this typical ductus, how the light grey paint is drawn around the darker body. The kind of expressive brush strokes in the cloth. The overall impression of speed painting. See also this painting of Hals here:

http://www.wga.hu/art/h/hals/frans/05-1638/46noport.jpg

Ha, probably the buyer knew, it was a Hals ;-))

10/30/2007 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

That does not look like any painting Hals ever did.

Except for the expression, it looks right out the school of Rembrandt.

Hard to tell from a jpeg.

Also from what is known of how Rembrandt worked he did not seem to work in grisailles.

There is no evidence of it, but if he did use a dead color lay in and worked on top of that it is a possibility that it would be obscured in X -rays.

If this is a Rembrandt it is the deal of the century.

10/30/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger painterdog said...

One thing is for sure you can't tell a thing from a jpeg.

Personally there is a better painting in the MFA in Boston that is now classified 'in the school of Rembrandt' that seems like a better painting, but unless one can see them side by side it is impossible to tell really.

Maybe Ferdinand Bol?

10/30/2007 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Hals, good call on the expression.

So what did Dutch people of this time have to laugh about in all those Hals paintings?

(poppies... hmmm...)

10/31/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger painterdog said...

They were getting rich and they kicked the Spanish out of their country.

That's not a Hals. If it was don't you think someone would have said so by now?

11/01/2007 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

Here is the view of Gary Schwartz pointing to Rembrandt as the author

http://www.gsah.nl/schwartzlist/?id=0

11/11/2007 07:59:00 AM  

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