Christie’s Unveils Rembrandt’s Last Portraits in Historic Sale

Christie’s, the renowned auction house, recently revealed an extraordinary find: the final existing pair of portraits by Rembrandt that are still privately owned.

The gavel has just fallen on this last pair of privately-held Rembrandt portraits, achieving a staggering price of £11,235,000 (estimated at £5,000,000-8,000,000) during the Old Masters Part I Sale on 6 July as part of Classic Week London 2023.

This sale marks a momentous occasion, occurring nearly two centuries after the portraits were last auctioned at Christie’s. The discovery of these remarkably rare portraits of Jan Willemsz. van der Pluym (circa 1565-1644) and Jaapgen Carels (1565-1640), signed and dated 1635, provides an intimate glimpse into the artist’s inner circle and shed light on Rembrandt’s artistic pursuits.

With an unbroken line of provenance, these captivating artworks have remained concealed from scholars until now. Through meticulous research conducted at the Rijksmuseum, Christie’s has uncovered their remarkable provenance, unveiling their significance to the art world.

Unveiling Rembrandt’s Intimate Portraits

These rare portraits, signed and dated 1635, provide a window into the lives of Jan Willemsz. van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels, who were both related to Rembrandt. Painted with Rembrandt’s characteristic virtuosity, these small-scale masterpieces emanate a sense of tenderness.

Christie's Unveils Rembrandt's Last Portraits in Historic Sale
Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn (Leiden 1606-1669 Amsterdam)
Portrait of Jan Willemsz. van der Pluym (circa 1565-1644) and Portrait of Jaapgen Carels (1565-1640)
7.7/8 x 6.1/2 in. (19.9 x 16.5 cm.)

Estimate: £5,000,000-8,000,000
Sold for: £11,235,000

The couple, portrayed in their dignified old age, exudes a profound humanity. The remarkably preserved paintings have been hidden away in private hands for nearly two centuries, unknown to scholars until now.

Before the Old Masters Part I Sale, the portraits embarked on an international tour, captivating audiences in New York and Amsterdam. From 10 to 14 June, art enthusiasts in New York had the privilege of viewing these remarkable works. Subsequently, the portraits graced Amsterdam with their presence from 21 to 24 June. Finally, they returned to London for the Classic Week pre-sale exhibition, where visitors admired them from 1 to 6 July.

Expert Insights on the Rediscovery

Henry Pettifer, International Deputy Chairman, Old Master Paintings, Christie’s commented: “This is one of the most exciting discoveries we have made in the Old Masters field in recent years and we are delighted to bring this pair of portraits by Rembrandt to auction this summer, almost 200 years after they were last seen in public.  Painted with a deep sense of humanity, these are amongst the smallest and most intimate portraits that we know by Rembrandt, adding something new to our understanding of him as a portraitist of undisputed genius.” 

Jan Willemsz. van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels, the subjects of these captivating portraits, were esteemed members of society in Leiden. Jan, a prosperous plumber, and his wife Jaapgen shared a close connection with Rembrandt. Their son, Dominicus van der Pluym, married Cornelia van Suytbroeck, who happened to be Rembrandt’s maternal uncle’s daughter, Willem van Suytbroeck.

Notably, the artist Karel van der Pluym, Dominicus and Cornelia’s child is believed to have received training from Rembrandt. Karel will even mention Rembrandt’s sole surviving heir, Titus. Another relative, Willem Jansz van der Pluym, sat as a model for one of Rembrandt’s most refined portrait drawings. In 1635, the same year as the creation of these portraits, Jan Willemsz. van der Pluym and Jaapgen Carels acquired a garden adjacent to Rembrandt’s mother’s property in Leiden.

A Remarkable Lineage of Ownership

The provenance of these portraits is truly exceptional, as they have been passed down through generations without interruption. They remained within the family of the sitters until 1760 when they were auctioned in Amsterdam after the death of their great-great-grandson, Marten ten Hove (1683-1759).

Christie's Unveils Rembrandt's Last Portraits in Historic Sale

From there, they entered the collection of Count Vincent Potocki (circa 1740-1825) in Warsaw before briefly transitioning to the collection of Baron d’Ivry in Paris in 1820. Eventually, they found their way to James Murray, 1st Baron Glenlyon (1782-1837), who offered them for sale at Christie’s on 18 June 1824, listed as: ‘Rembrandt – very spirited and finely coloured.’ The portraits were successfully acquired and have since remained in the possession of a private UK collection for over two centuries.

Christie’s and Rembrandt

As a leading authority in the art world, Christie’s holds the record for the highest auction price achieved for a Rembrandt painting. In 2009, the Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo sold for an astounding £20,201,250. Furthermore, in 2016, Christie’s facilitated a groundbreaking private sale, securing two Rembrandt masterpieces for the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum, making it one of the most significant transactions in art history.

Conclusion

The unearthing of the last known pair of Rembrandt portraits held privately is an exceptional event for art enthusiasts and historians alike. Christie’s has meticulously researched and authenticated these masterpieces, ensuring their rightful place in the artistic canon. Their upcoming appearance at the Old Masters Part I Sale during Classic Week London promises to be a momentous occasion, offering collectors and admirers a rare opportunity to own or witness the artistry of Rembrandt up close.

Images: Christie’s

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