The 3ft 4in x 2ft 5in (1.01m x 74cm) oil on canvas was offered at an Old Master day sale at Christie’s in London in December 2016. Estimated at £15,000-£20,000, Six secured it at £137,000 (including premium) against competition from a number of other Old Master specialists.
It came to the auction from the descendants of Sir Richard Neave, a merchant who became governor of the Bank of England from 1783-85. It is believed the picture was acquired by either him or his son, Sir Thomas Neave.
At the time of the auction, it had been recently relined and had undergone a light clean.
Six told ATG: “I was convinced from the very start that Rembrandt is the painter of the entire painting.”
When asked what key factors led to this conviction, he said: “It was the way the person is depicted; as if you’re looking at a human being instead of an image of a person.
“The details also give it away: the way some edges of the lace ruff are curled and suggest depth is incredibly well painted. None of his great students in that period, like Flinck and Bol for example, ever reached this level of competence.”
Six bought the picture together with an anonymous investor and has now outlined the research that has since been undertaken in his book Portrait of a young gentleman (published in both Dutch and English). As well as presenting the technical analysis that includes matching the paint types to Rembrandt’s known pigments, it states that the work could have been one of a pair of portraits from the mid-1630s.
One area of particular interest is the lace collar which is of a type identified as highly fashionable in Amsterdam during only a brief period. A similar example appears in Rembrandt's portrait of Philip Lukasz from 1635.
Multiple art historians and conservators have now endorsed the Rembrandt’s attribution “on the basis of first hand inspection”, including Ernst van de Wetering, the former head of the Rembrandt Research Project (RPP) and a leading authority on the artist. Van de Wetering has written the foreword to Six’s book and describes the work as “one of Rembrandt’s most masterly portraits”.
The picture has been restored over the last year by Laurent Sozzani, who spent 22 years as a senior paintings restorer at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
It went on display in the Hermitage Amsterdam this week where it will remain until June 15. Six confirmed that the painting is now for sale but would not disclose the selling price.
The book Portrait of a young gentleman by Jan Six is published by Prometheus Amsterdam, 2018, and is available in Dutch and English. It is priced at €19.90.