- Title: UK: REMBRANDT SELF PORTRAIT TO BE AUCTIONED OFF AT SOTHERBY'S
- Date: 22nd April 2003
- Summary: CLOSEUP PHOTO OF PAINTING AS IT HAD ORIGINALLY BEEN OVERPAINTED INTO THIS RUSSIAN FIGURE
- Embargoed: 7th May 2003 13:00
- Location: LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Arts,Quirky,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVA25Z7TIZ3ZUSWVE9MM7PNZDLBN
- Story Text: A newly-discovered Rembrandt self-portrait, hidden for over 300 years behind layers of overpaint, is to be auctioned off at Sotherby's auctionhouse in London this summer. Auctioneers who participated in the painting's restoration process, estimate that it will fetch more than Â£5 million sterling. Rembrandt is well known for his fable to paint self-portraits - the artist is said to have produced over 80 during his lifetime.
This is the painting, that lay hidden behind layers of overpaint for over 300 years. Dated 1634, the self-portrait was originally painted by Rembrandt and only a few years later overpainted by probably one of his pupils. The unravelling of the mystery behind it began tentatively in the mid-20th century when a curious owner arranged for various elements of the Russian attire to be removed.
When the painting was acquired by the current owner's father in the 1960s the tall hat on the original overpaint had already disappeared. It's only recently that scholars and experts came together to study the painting in depth. In 1995 the painting was viewed by specialist from the Rembrandt Research project. Four years later, the painting's owner who remains anonymous got in touch with Sotherby's for further examination.
One of the specialists participating in the process was Sotherby's George Gordon an expert in Old Master paintings.
He recalls what the portrait looked like when he first set eyes on it: "When we first saw the painting we thought this looks like a mess, frankly, nothing more than that and the moment of truth was when we put a piece of cardboard on top of the face - rather crude - covering up the painting to the tip of the nose just about there and we suddenly realized that parts of the face below that absolutely leapt out of extremely good quality."
The team set out on a complicated and delicate cleaning process which further 'liberated' the original from its overpaint.
"The lower part here was completely overpainted, the cap was completely overpainted, and the most dramatic change visually speaking was that this side of the face was entirely lit, which doesn't make any since given that the light source is coming from there and the painting should show the face shaded, both eyes in shadow as it is now", says Gordon.
Although Rembrandt had signed his painting and the signature could be made out, experts continued to ascertain its originality. When they were absolutely certain that this was indeed an original Rembrandt painting they estimated its value in excess of 5 Million Pound Sterling.
George Gordon's theory as to why the portrait was overpainted has something to do with Rembrandt's sense of commercialism. Gordon suggests that it might have simply answered to the demands at the time for fantastic-looking exotic figures, a huge selling point: "There was a terrific demand for what we call tronies, which are fantastic imaginary portraits of figures in exotic costumes, usually exotic figures in exotic costumes, turbans, huge furry hats, whatever and it seems that this picture, and a number of others were repainted later on in the 1630s, sometimes, later than that into these fantastic portraits, by a pupil probably under Rembrandt's own direction. This would have been again for sale, a commercial proposition, but also allow the pupil to develop his own talents, directed by Rembrandt etc etc."
Rembrandt was thus transformed into a Russian looking figure, with an earring and a huge hat, quite different to his original looks.
"It was completely repainted into this what we now realize Russian figure with a huge Russian hat and a great big moustache - a fantasy figure which is what people wanted."
The portrait will be up for auction at London's auctionhouse Sotherby's in July. Meanwhile it will be securely stored away after being shown to interested customers in Paris and New York .
George Gordon says, specialists have been able to learn a lot from the cleaning process and doesn't exclude that there aren't more overpainted self-portraits waiting to be discovered - after all Rembrandt is said to have produced around 80.
"This picture has helped us to understand this process and because of the slow and careful examination of this picture through its cleaning we now understand more about what happened to other pictures and this picture allowed us to find changes in other Rembrandts which for example were self-portraits and then became something else."
The Rembrandt self-portrait is one of only three known Rembrandt self-portraits still in private hands.
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