‘Rembrandt Laughing’ is self-portrait
Associated Press Writer
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands ” The auction house thought the portrait was a 17th century Rembrandt knockoff, and valued it at just $3,100. But the British buyer who paid about 1,500 times more than that apparently knew what he was doing.
Experts have confirmed “Rembrandt Laughing” ” bought for a bargain price of $4.5 million at an English auction house in October ” is a self-portrait by the Dutch master himself, depicted with his head tilted back in easygoing laughter.
William Noortman from Noortman Master Paintings, specializing in Dutch and Flemish masters, said it’s worth $30 million to $40 million, adding: “I’m very surprised it didn’t make more at auction.”
The 9 1/2-inch-by-6 1/2-inch painting will hang in the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam through June 29, on loan from the anonymous Briton who bought it at the auction by Moore, Allen and Innocent in Gloucestershire and had it cleaned and examined by British experts.
Art expert Jan Six from another auction house, Sotheby’s, declined to put a new value on the painting. But he said the sale itself was a rare opportunity, as Rembrandt’s works come on the market only once every few years.
“A self-portrait by Rembrandt, that’s absolutely unique ” not in my lifetime,” Six said.
Rembrandt made the self-portrait about 1628, when he was in his early 20s and still in his hometown, Leiden. Already he was earning his reputation as an artist, and experimenting with a mirror and his own face to capture expressions.
“It has an incredible presence,” said Ernst van de Wetering, head of the Rembrandt Research Project and an authority on the Dutch master. “The light has the most natural quality of light you can think of. … and I love the naturalness of the laughing.”
The painting previously had been in the hands of an English family for more than 100 years, according to Moore, Allen and Innocent. Some had assumed it to be by one of Rembrandt’s students or a Rembrandt imitator.
Van de Wetering said he thought the auction house’s low evaluation had been based on poor photographs that showed little of the painting’s luminosity or depth.
But in a 23-page analysis published Friday, Van de Wetering described why Rembrandt was almost certainly the creator of the little work: Brush stroke, contour, materials and the monogram all point to the master’s hand.
The auction’s winner may have suspected the painting was a genuine Rembrandt from the monogram RHL, painted in a rare style that the artist only used for about a year. It stands for Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden. The auction house wrote the signature as “HL” in its assessment.
The initials become more compelling proof when considering that they were painted onto the wet paint of the background, and that the direction of the brush strokes match another monogram known to be Rembrandt’s.
Experts also were confused by the shape of the laughing Rembrandt’s body. The clothing ” a woolly blanket, metal armor and glossy shirt ” appear amorphous, lying in lumpy folds with little description of the anatomy below. Yet the contour has a character of its own, one that is repeated in some of his later works.
“If you look at this contour, it has a certain autonomy,” Van de Wetering said, adding that it may have been one of the first times Rembrandt tested out this way of painting the body.
The thin copper plate on which the piece is painted matches in size and type with others used in other Rembrandt paintings.
X-rays reveal a second painting underneath ” its content and composition also consistent with other Rembrandt works.
It is unclear where the painting had been before 1800, when a Flemish engraver made a reproductive print and attributed the original to the Dutch painter Frans Hals without realizing the face in the picture was that of Rembrandt.
“After that there is silence about the painting; we don’t know where it stayed,” Van de Wetering said.