Rembrandt's Adoration of Kings

The Adoration of the Kings, a work now attributed to Rembrandt that sold for £9.5m at Sotheby’s.

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Described by Sotheby’s as ‘an exciting addition to the painted oeuvre of the great Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)’, The Adoration of the Kings was estimated at £10-15m at the firm’s Old Master evening sale in London on December 6.

With the auction house having arranged an ‘irrevocable bid’ in advance of the sale, it was always bound to sell but, on the night, it failed to draw any further interest and was knocked down to its guarantor at £9.5m. Although selling below estimate, the price represented the fifth highest for Rembrandt at auction according to

Attribution debate

The 9.5 x 7.25in (25 x 19cm) monochromatic panel painting first came to light in a French collection in the 1950s and, although it was considered an autograph work by art historians including Dirk Hannema and Johan Quirijn van Regteren Altena in 1955 and 1956 respectively, and was exhibited as such on several occasions, its attribution was later downgraded.

Rembrandt’s authorship was first challenged by Kurt Bauch in 1960, while art historian Werner Sumowski classified it as a high quality studio work in 1983, dating it to c.1630.

Having changed hands twice since, it then sold as ‘circle of Rembrandt’ at an online sale held by Christie's Amsterdam in October 2021. Back then it was offered with a €10,000-15,000 estimate and was bid to €860,000 (£731,605) including premium.

The Adoration of the Kings

The Adoration of the Kings, may have been conceived as an idea for an etching. Rembrandt famously created around 300 etchings and drypoints during his career.

Sotheby’s said that, following an 18-month research programme, it has now been “widely recognised as a work of great significance in Rembrandt’s early career” and dated to c.1628. Having had old retouchings and discoloured varnish removed, the auction house stated that analysis via X-rays and infra-red imaging has led “a wide range of leading Rembrandt scholars” to endorse it as an autograph work from the “formative period of his early career”.

The Sotheby’s catalogue points out that The Adoration of the Kings may well have been conceived as an idea for an etching although Rembrandt never ended up making a printed image of this subject.

The auction record for Rembrandt remains at £18m for two paintings sold at Christie’s: Portrait of a man with arms akimbo, a later work that sold in December 2009, and a portrait of a lady from 1632 that sold December 2000.

This was not the first time a work has sold at a major auction house but then gone on to fetch substantially more after having its attribution upgraded. In July 2013, a painting of Salisbury Cathedral catalogued as 'Follower of John Constable' made £2800 at Christie's South Kensington, before then making $4.5m (£3.1m) at Sotheby’s New York in January 2015 where it was offered as a fully autograph work.

Record for Renaldi

The latest Sotheby’s sale offered 27 lots and took only 46 minutes to complete. The most contested lot was a portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi (1755-after 1798) which drew five phone bidders. Surpassing a £300,000-500,000 estimate, it was knocked down at £650,000 to a buyer bidding through Sotheby’s New York-based Co-Chairman of Old Master Paintings George Wachter.

A portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi

A portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi, a record £650,000 at Sotheby’s.

The 3ft 3in x 2ft 4in (1m x 72cm) signed oil on canvas was rare work on the market by the artist who was born in England to Italian parents. It was painted in 1787 during his 10-year spell in India but was made during a relatively short but productive period when the artist was based in Calcutta, two years before he painted Muslim Lady Reclining, one of his most famous paintings which is now in the Yale Center for British Art.

The picture had not been on the market since the vendor acquired it at Sotheby’s back in 1969. This time round, it more than tripled the auction record for Renaldi.