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‘Exceptionally rare’ Rembrandt portraits sell for €13 million at auction

Two small portraits of an elderly couple, signed and dated 1635 by the Dutch master Rembrandt, will go on sale this summer.
Two small portraits of an elderly couple, signed and dated 1635 by the Dutch master Rembrandt, will go on sale this summer. Copyright CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023
Copyright CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023
By Anca Ulea
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For 200 years, two portraits by the Dutch master Rembrandt were completely unknown to scholars. Today, they were sold at Christie's for more than €13 million.

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In 1824, a pair of portraits by the Dutch master Rembrandt were sold at Christie’s auction house. The tiny paintings were then lost to history, their existence completely unknown to art scholars, an unusual oversight for an artist of Rembrandt’s status.

Now, nearly two centuries later, they've been sold by the same auction house for over €13 million, surpassing Christie's estimates, set between seven and nine million euros. 

Christie’s International Deputy Chairman of Old Master Paintings Henry Pettifer discovered the portraits sitting quietly in a British family’s collection. The family had no idea the paintings were done by Rembrandt.

“This is one of the most exciting discoveries we have made in the Old Masters field in recent years,” Pettifer said in a statement, calling the portraits “exceptionally rare”.

The paintings were authenticated after an extensive scholarly investigation and scientific analysis undertaken at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

Unique insight into Rembrandt as an artist

At 20 cm tall, the works are believed to have been the last known pair of portraits by Rembrandt to remain in private hands. The pieces are intimate portrayals of an elderly couple who were close to Rembrandt and his family, providing a unique insight into the Dutch master’s role as a painter within his inner circle.

“Painted with a deep sense of humanity, these are amongst the smallest and most intimate portraits that we know by Rembrandt, adding something new to our understanding of him as a portraitist of undisputed genius,” Pettifer said.

CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023
The portraits show wealthy plumber Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and his wife Jaapgen Carels.CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023

The subjects were wealthy plumber Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and his wife Jaapgen Carels, who lived in the Dutch painter’s birthplace of Leiden and were intimately connected with Rembrandt and his family.

In 1635, the year the portraits were completed, when Rembrandt had been living in Amsterdam for four years, the couple had just purchased the garden next to Rembrandt’s mother’s house in Leiden.

Their son married Rembrandt’s cousin on his mother’s side, and their grandson from that marriage – an artist himself – is believed to have trained with Rembrandt in later years.

A long journey through private collections

The portraits remained in the elderly couple’s family until 1760 when they were first sold at auction in Amsterdam.

After that, they passed through private collections in Warsaw, Paris and the UK before being acquired by Christie’s through an ancestor of the present owners in the 1800s.

CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023
The two small portraits by Rembrandt seen in their frames.CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2023

Sold as lot 76 at a Christie’s auction on June 18, 1824, the paintings were listed as: “Rembrandt – very spirited and finely coloured.” Since then, they have remained in the same private UK collection.

The portraits went on tour in New York and Amsterdam in June before returning to London, where they have been available to view in the Classic Week pre-sale exhibition.

Christie's holds the world auction record for Rembrandt, which was set in 2009 when "Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo" sold for €23,225,579.

Check the video above for a closer look.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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