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In the realm of family legacies, it is truly unparalleled to encounter a pair of Rembrandt’s portraits that have surreptitiously evaded the public gaze for two centuries. Such an extraordinary rediscovery unequivocally transcends the ordinary confines of heritage and lineage, amplifying the inherent value of these art historical treasures.

In the tranquil setting of a British family’s abode, a pair of unassuming oil paintings silently bore witness to the mundane rhythms of domestic life. These pieces, now known to be creations of Rembrandt, the eminent Dutch maestro of the 17th century, were unwittingly admired with an air of nonchalance for generations. As the last known pair of Rembrandt’s portraits still ensconced in private possession, these artworks are poised to command a lofty price between GBP 5 million and GBP 8 million at the esteemed Christie’s auction house in London next month.

“I initially chanced upon these artworks a few years back during an unremarkable valuation task, and found myself utterly transfixed,” recounts Henry Pettifer, International Deputy Chairman of Old Master Paintings at Christie’s. The realization that these pieces were largely overlooked in the extensive annals of Rembrandt studies over the past two centuries left him in a state of profound astonishment.

In an intimate departure from Rembrandt’s more grandiose style, the diminutive oval portraits, approximately 20 centimeters in height, tenderly portray an elderly plumber, Jan Willemsz van der Pluym, and his wife, Jaapgen Carels. An intimate portrayal, it echoes the familial bond between the artist and his subjects, who were not only close associates of Rembrandt’s family but also hailed from his hometown Leiden, in the Netherlands.

These illustrious portraits have graced the same collection since 1824, when an ancestor of the current proprietors acquired them at a Christie’s auction, where they were duly catalogued as Rembrandt’s works. “Over the span of two centuries, the paintings were subtly appreciated, savored with a kind of casual enjoyment by the owner’s family,” shared Pettifer.

Upon his fortuitous discovery, a meticulous, almost “forensic,” examination was undertaken to authenticate their provenance. “Given their previously unknown status, an air of skepticism initially shrouded these pieces. However, a comprehensive and rigorous investigation was deemed essential,” he said. The resulting analysis affirmed the indelible mark of Rembrandt’s brush, bringing to light these hitherto overlooked masterpieces and placing them on the pedestal of artistic recognition they so rightfully deserved.

Renowned for their meticulous attention to detail, Christie’s auction house engaged a cadre of art connoisseurs to confirm the provenance of the paintings, drawing on the invaluable expertise of scholars from Amsterdam’s esteemed Rijksmuseum. “We were indeed fortunate to have their proficient scientific team examine the paintings assiduously over an extensive period of nearly two years,” disclosed Christie’s expert, Manja Rottink.

In order to ascertain the line of ownership, these specialists scrutinized an inventory attributed to the eldest daughter of the subjects represented in the portraits. Furthermore, they meticulously analyzed Rembrandt’s signatures, scrutinizing whether they had been executed in wet paint, typical of the era, while concurrently juxtaposing the artistic style with other authenticated works from Rembrandt’s oeuvre. “Our collective consensus, supported by exhaustive research, confirmed the pieces as authentic works by the master. The magnitude of enthusiasm surrounding this discovery was truly overwhelming,” affirmed Rottink.

Being the smallest known portraits by Rembrandt, these diminutive masterpieces offer an intriguing perspective on the artist’s stylistic evolution, typically associated with grand portraits commissioned by affluent Dutch families. “These portray a departure from the normative, rendering a more intimate and personal insight into the artist’s perception,” opined Pettifer.

Christie’s hails the unveiling of these hidden Rembrandts as “one of the most exhilarating revelations in the realm of Old Masters in recent times.” In an unprecedented move, these artworks embarked on a transatlantic exhibition tour, gracing New York and London with their presence, before they are slated to go under the hammer in London on July 6.

As anticipation for the auction builds, it remains uncertain whether the coveted pieces will find a home in a private collection or a museum. However, one facet of the auction stands unassailable: the decision to maintain the paintings’ lifelong unity. “They have remained intact throughout their existence; hence, it is only fitting we auction them as a pair,” asserted Pettifer.

With AFP

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