Painting Valued at $15K Turns Out to Be a Rembrandt, Sells for $13.8M at Auction

Adoration of the Kings by Rembrandt

Recent results at an auction prove that we're still making new discoveries, even when it comes to some of the most famous artists in history. Rembrandt van Rijn is one of the most beloved artists of the Dutch Golden Age, and his paintings, etchings, and drawings continue to captivate the public's imaginations. So much so, that a painting that was valued at $15,000 two years ago, just sold for £11 million ($13.8 million), according to CNN.

The incredible sale occurred during Sotheby's Old Master & 19th Century Paintings auction in London on December 6. The Adoration of the Kings is a small oil painting by the 17th-century painter. It first gained public attention in 1955, when it was purchased by collector J.C.H. Heldring. His widow then sold it to a German family in 1985, and they, in turn, put it up for auction at Christie‘s in 2021.

Interestingly, though the painting was originally attributed to Rembrandt, the 2021 sale listed the oil painting as by “Circle of Rembrandt.” This typically means that the work would have been carried out by a student or close associate. At the time, the work was valued between $11,000 and $16,000, eventually selling for about $910,000.

Whoever made that purchase was quite savvy, as the painting has been reevaluated by Sotheby's experts after an 18-month research period. This included x-rays of the panel, as well as consultation with leading experts on Rembrandt. In the end, Sotheby's team concluded that the work was, indeed, painted by Rembrandt, most likely when he was a young artist living in Leiden.

The attribution is meaningful, as it is rare to see a Biblical scene by Rembrandt for sale. Typically, according to Sotheby's press release, any Rembrandts coming up for auction over the past three decades have been portraits or single-character studies.

Adoration of the Kings by Rembrandt

“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,” George Gordon, co-chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide at Sotheby’s, told CNN.

Sotheby's determined that The Adoration of the Kings was likely first mentioned in a 1714 inventory of a Dutch collector. It then changed hands a few times in the early 19th century before disappearing until the mid-20th century. At that point, it was considered a work by Rembrandt and was exhibited several times. But thanks to a German art historian, who had only seen the work in a black and white photo, it was largely ignored after being described as being by the Rembrandt school and omitted from a catalog of the artist's work.

Given that the 2021 auction saw a sale price far above the estimate, it's possible that many bidders already realized the high quality of the painting and the possibility that it might actually be a Rembrandt. Now, the lucky owner has the privilege of adding a rare piece of history to their collection.

“Very few narrative paintings by Rembrandt remain in private hands, making this an opportunity for a private collector or an institution that is as rare as it is exciting,” shared Gordon.

“This sophisticated painting is in equal measure a product of Rembrandt’s brush and his intellect. All the hallmarks of his style in the late 1620s are evident both in the visible painted surface and in the underlying layers revealed by science, showing multiple changes in the course of its creation, and casting fresh light on how he thought.”

Watch as art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon discusses the importance of Rembrandt's The Adoration of the Kings, which just sold at auction for $13.8 million.

h/t: [CNN]

All images via Sotheby's.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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