'New' Rembrandt shown off at Dutch fine art fair

21st March 2016

A previously unidentified work by Rembrandt dating from 1624 to 1625 has gone on display at the prestigious TEFAF art fair in the Dutch city of Maastricht.

Initially credited as the work of an unknown artist from Europe's "Continental School," dated somewhere in the 19th century, the painting was handed a presale estimate of between just $500 and $800 when it went to auction in New Jersey last year.

It was there that it caught the eye of French art dealer Bertrand Gautier, who immediately sensed the small oil-on-panel painting, which depicts three striking figures, was much older.

Not only that, but Gautier also had a feeling about who was responsible for the work; Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn.

Bidding war

However, a sharp eye for an artistic masterpiece was not exclusive to the French art dealer, with a rival collector seemingly drawing the same conclusion.

In just a few dramatic minutes, the price of the piece shot up, with the eventual Paris gallery winners paying just over $1 million.

The painting has now been restored, with experts now unanimous in their agreement that it is indeed a genuine Rembrandt, taking pride of place at the entrance to the gallery's stand at the prestigious TEFAF art fair.

The work is thought to have been created when Rembrandt was just 18 or 19 at the beginning of his career, shortly after completing his education in Amsterdam.

Entitled "The Unconscious Patient (Sense of Smell)", the piece shows a woman holding a handkerchief, presumably containing smelling salts, under the nose of a young man, who has fainted after a surgeon has performed a blood-letting.

Professor Christopher Brown, an expert in Dutch art at Oxford University, told the Associated Press that the significance of the work could not be underestimated.

"This is a great discovery. It really is absolutely fascinating. This is the very beginning of Rembrandt, more or less the first picture he ever painted," he said.

"The drawing is slightly crude, the colours are very vivid. It's the beginning, the absolute beginning."

One of five

The picture is one of five in a series created by the artist depicting the five senses. Three "sense" paintings had already emerged into public circulation. It means that only the "taste" piece is missing.

The emergence of this piece has lead many experts to ask why it was not identified as a Rembrandt earlier. Curiously, according to Gautier, the reason may well be due to a restoration job that was conducted to bring it more in line with the Dutchman's previous works.

Gautier told the Associated Press: "They knew it was a Rembrandt, but they didn't think it looked enough like a Rembrandt.

"They 'Rembrandtised' what was already a Rembrandt.

"Today we can see it is ridiculous, but every era understands an artist in its own way," he added. "Today, we have the good fortune to be able to place it in its historical context."

After purchasing the painting, the new owners restored the work and fitted it with a frame that, once closed, would show only the part of the panel painted by the artist. However, once opened, it appears to reveal later additions to the work.

But one of the most interesting features is that of the earliest known signature by Rembrandt, including a monogram of the letters "RF" or "RHF", which is believed to stand for Rembrandt Harmensz fecit, or 'made by Rembrandt'.

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