$2.2m For A Fake Rembrandt?
Date: 28 Oct 2007 | | Views: 3759
Source: The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), by Maev Kennedy
When taxis began to arrive from the railway station bearing a small flock of art dealers from London, the small country auction rooms suspected something was up.
A few hours later, a little painting on copper of a laughing young man, valued at up to £1,500 as in the style of Rembrandt, had been snapped up by an agent for an unidentified bidder for £2.2m - £2,580,750 if you include the 15% premium which goes to the euphoric staff of Moore, Allen and Innocent auctioneers in Cirencester.
The buyer - and the rivals who converged on the sale, as word spread in the art world - is convinced the painting is a genuine masterpiece which had been hanging unrecognised on the drawing room wall of a country house. Head auctioneer Philip Allwood, who has worked at the firm for 22 years, described the atmosphere at the sale as electric: "Once the price went above £1m the whole place fell silent. When it topped £2m you could hear a pin drop. Once the hammer went down, the whole place erupted into applause."
The picture came from the UK house of an anonymous overseas collector, who had not believed it was a genuine Rembrandt. The auctioneers sent detailed images of it to collectors and museums around the world, but most, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which has one of the greatest Rembrandt collections in the world, concluded that The Young Rembrandt as Democrates the Laughing Philosopher was an accomplished contemporary work in the artist's style.
Mr Allwood said: "I said immediately that it looked like a Rembrandt's own work; but the owner assured me that someone had checked it out years gone by, and it was not.
"I looked at it long and hard over the next few months and in the end we got on to the Rijksmuseum, which is a leading authority on Rembrandt. They looked at the images we sent over and said they were fairly happy that it was not by Rembrandt, but it was almost certainly 17th century and by a contemporary of Rembrandt.
"There was an indistinct monogram in the top left corner, but it didn't look like Rembrandt's. On the basis that it was not a Rembrandt, we made a very cagey estimate in the catalogue of £1,000 to £1,500. How wrong could we be?"
Yesterday's sale showed several people believe that the work is genuine.
It is not impossible that this is so: a Cimabue, much rarer than a Rembrandt, was found in a dark corridor of an East Anglian house a few years ago, while two ravishing Fra Angelico saints turned up in a spare bedroom last year.
Rembrandt authentication has been a growth industry for decades. The artist was so often in dire financial straits that he had to churn out pictures.
Distinguishing between what are outright fakes, studio works with a few brushstrokes by the master, and contemporary pieces by worshipful contemporaries, has never been easy.
If the Cirencester painting does not survive forensic scrutiny, it will have been a very expensive day trip for the buyer.