(Thought to be by Rembrandt), The Young Rembrandt as Democrates the Laughing Philosopher.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UK. - The subject of a 17th century oil painting wasn’t the only one smiling when the hammer fell at Moore Allen & Innocent’s Selected Picture Sale on Friday.
There were claps and cheers at the Cirencester salesroom as The Young Rembrandt as Democrates the Laughing Philosopher was sold for £2.2 million – a record for the auction of a painting outside London.
Now Moore Allen has been asked to look at another 25 paintings, which potential vendors believe are originals by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and others.
Incredibly, the painting had been estimated at just £1,000 to £1,500. Auctioneer Philip Allwood said: “When I first saw the painting I felt sure it was a Rembrandt. I sought the opinion of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – the leading authority of the artist – but they couldn’t be sure.” The initials HL in the corner of the portrait fuelled uncertainty.
It was definitely a portrait of Rembrandt, but had the Dutch Master wielded the brush himself? As no-one could be sure, the painting was attributed to ‘a follower of Rembrandt’. But when the catalogue was published, with the portrait on the cover, word started to spread in the art world and by the day of the auction, several of the world’s top dealers had expressed an interest. There was talk of ‘a six figure sum’ being achieved.
One of the final few lots at the auction, lot 377 started at a modest £5,800 but soon escalated. At times, the bids were rising in increments of £100,000. By the time bidding reached £330,000 only three dealers in the room – all on mobile telephones to anonymous clients – were in the running.
When the bidding hit £1 million an eerie silence fell over the auction room. A little later, one dealer asked for the painting to be removed from its glass display case and studied in closely. “It’s definitely a Rembrandt,” we was heard to tell his client. “It’s a bargain at £1.75 million.”
When the price reached £2 million silence fell again, broken only by a few nervous giggles. Then the dealers started bidding again, in increments of £50,000. As the hammer fell at £2,200,000 there was spontaneous applause as everyone present realised they had witnessed a piece of art history.
And as the auction closed and the bidders left, the champagne corks popped and staff took a moment to celebrate before the inevitable arrival of newspaper photographers and TV crews.
“No-one pays £2.2 million for a follower of Rembrandt,” said Philip after the auction. “They must be convinced of its authenticity.”
The 9.5-inch by 6.5-inch portrait had languished in the Cotswolds attic of a regular customer of Moore Allen & Innocent for 50 years. “The vendor had told me that his father had the picture evaluated and the conclusion was that it was not a Rembrandt,” said Philip. “It’s why we had to be so careful with our description, not to say it was by Rembrandt and let the bidders make up their own minds.”
“Naturally we’re thrilled by the result. The international interest has been incredible – although not unanticipated. It was the lead TV news story in Holland on Friday, where the discovery of a previously unknown Rembrandt has created quite a stir. Most national papers ran the story on Saturday and we’ve had interest from Australia, America and Africa too.”
The sale has broken several records. “It’s the most money ever paid for a painting at auction in the provinces,” said Philip, “and it’s the second highest sum paid at auction for a piece of art outside London, beaten only by the £2.6 million paid for a Yuan vase in 2005.
“Obviously it’s a record for Moore Allen & Innocent and it’s also a personal best for me. My previous personal best for a painting is just over £100,000 and at one stage the bidding for the Rembrandt was going up in increments of that.”
Ironically, the total made by the remaining 390 lots was over £92,000. Even without the sale of the Rembrandt, it would have been Moore Allen’s most successful Selected Picture Sale ever.
And by Monday morning Moore Allen had received 25 emails from across the UK from potential vendors asking the auctioneers to look at suspected Old Masters – including Rembrandt – and more modern works by likes of Van Gogh and Picasso.