This look back at the provenance of Rembrandt’s self-portrait by Colin Gleadell is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
A self-portrait by Rembrandt that sold fifty years ago for £650 pounds is returning to the auction block this summer when Sotheby’s reckons it will make between £12 million pounds and £16 million pounds. In 1970, it was not considered a genuine Rembrandt, so Sotheby’s catalogued it as just “Rembrandt.” In art market parlance that means it looks like a Rembrandt but isn’t actually by the artist. For the real thing, the catalogue would have stated his full name—Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn—thus signaling their belief in its authenticity.
The buyer, Paris dealer J.O. Leegenhoek, and his wife, had held it for 26 years, before showing it to the German dendrochronologist, Peter Klein, who confirmed the wood it was painted on was from the same tree as the panel used for Rembrandt’s portrait of Maurits Huygens, which hangs in the Hamburg Kunsthalle. News filtered out in the art trade, and a nimble anonymous Dutch collector bought it from the Leegenhoeks for around $1.5 million, according to Rembrandt scholar Gary Schwartz—cheap for a Rembrandt, but then it hadn’t yet been openly recognized and wasn’t in very good condition. Analysis showed it had been overpainted by another hand in parts, and overzealously cleaned in others.
But it was a Rembrandt.
The painting was first on the open market as a recognized Rembrandt in 2005, when it was in the hands of Dutch dealer Robert Noortman who quoted $10 million for it. Sotheby’s does not mention this in its catalogue entry, but Noortman sold the self-portrait within a day to the Monaco-based Dutch businessman and art collector Louis Reijtenbagh. Apart from the Rembrandt, Reijtenbagh owns works by van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. Four years later, in 2009, I revealed in the Daily Telegraph that Reijtenbagh was using art as collateral for bank loans and was the mysterious seller of $60 million worth of modern art in one sale at Sotheby’s in New York, realizing a reasonable profit despite the credit crunch.
Reijtenbagh clearly also sought to trade up on the Rembrandt because it was back with Noortman at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht in 2008, according to the New York Times, with a $27.7 million price tag. “It’s the last Rembrandt self-portrait to buy in the world,” said Noortman’s son, William.
But it appears that attempt to sell was unsuccessful as there is no record that the painting was sold either then or afterwards, so one can assume Reijtenbagh still owns it and is the seller on July 28. His name is certainly on the painting as the owner in the records of the Nederlands Institute for Art History.
Sotheby’s remains silent on the identity of the seller, but informed sources in the trade who wish to remain anonymous confirm that he is.
Sotheby’s has found a third-party guarantor for the painting, so it will sell.
The record for a Rembrandt is £20.2 million given at Christie’s in 2009 for the Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (not a self-portrait), that was bought by Las Vegas hotelier and owner of Mirage Resorts, Steve Wynn. Wynn then sold it to Milwaukee collector Alfred Bader who in turn donated it to his alma mater, Queen’s University in Ontario. Wynn also bought the most recent self-portrait on the market at Sotheby’s in 2003 for £7 million. That too had gone unrecognized for centuries because another artist had repainted much of it; it is now in the Leiden Collection owned by US collector Thomas Kaplan, who has eleven Rembrandts.