People fantasize about going to a local art sale, auction or estate sale and finding a piece of art worth that is worth far more than anyone present anticipated. It can happen and did last September in New Jersey when a small painting, catalogued as “Continental School 19th Century,” was recognized by a couple of knowledgeable attendees as a possible masterwork. They were right and the long-lost artwork (part of a series on the five senses) by the 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn is going on display Wednesday, May 11, at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, along with two other senses pieces.
The special installation features three of five pieces that a teen-aged Rembrandt created that depicted the five senses. The 9-inch-tall senses piece discovered in NJ, “The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell),” is making its U.S. debut, with the discolored varnish removed and some restoration work, at the Getty.
The Smell piece will be displayed alongside “The Stone Operation (An Allegory of the Sense of Touch)” and “The Three Musicians (An Allegory of the Sense of Hearing),” which are on loan from the Leiden Collection. The three works have not been displayed together for three centuries. The series of paintings, which also includes “The Spectacle Seller (An Allegory of the Sense of Sight)” at the Lakenhal Museum in South Holland and a fifth still-unaccounted for piece, are some of Rembrandt’s earliest known works, from about 1624.
The Smell artwork was sitting in a basement last year, but was among some items put up for auction in an estate sale. Two dealers suspected the work was worth more because the style seemed similar to Rembrandt’s. Two other bidders who suspected a treasure had been found also joined the action. While none were completely sure of the authenticity, the work eventually went for about $870,000. It was then purchased by financier Thomas Kaplan, whose Leiden Collection already owned the other two senses pieces on loan to the Getty. During restoration, the authenticity was determined and Rembrandt’s monogram was even found under the varnish.
“Rembrandt is unquestionably one of the greatest and most-loved painters of the European tradition, whose work still grips modern audiences as strongly as it did his own contemporaries,” noted the director of the Getty Museum, Timothy Potts. He pointed out that this special installation offers visitors an opportunity to witness the artist at the genesis of his career. Potts noted that the works are not as accomplished as the ones a more mature Rembrandt created, but they show some of the emotional intensity that was an enduring feature of his art.
Potts also added, “It is particularly appropriate to be bringing these works together for the first time at the Getty Museum, as we possess the most significant collection of early Rembrandts in the United States.” Two other Leiden Collection Rembrandts, “Portrait of a Rabbi” and“Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak,” have been at the Getty on long-term loan and will be shown alongside the senses works.
These works, along with other early works of his at the Getty (including the self-portrait “Rembrandt Laughing” and “An Old Man in Military Costume,”) demonstrate Rembrandt’s desire to capture in paint a variety of human emotions and ages, as well as how rapidly his ability developed in a few years, added Anne Woollett, the Getty’s curator of paintings. She noted that the museum’s collection as well as the Leiden Collection loans allow visitors see his remarkable talent trajectory.
The long-lost Rembrandt painting on the Sense of Smell along with the other two senses works will be displayed at the Getty from May 11 through Aug. 28. They will then travel internationally along with the portraits of the rabbi and the girl in the gold-trimmed cloak. In the meantime, the location of the fifth sense painting, the allegory on taste, is still unknown. Perhaps it is waiting for discovery in an estate sale or auction
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
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Photo of “The Unconscious Patient (Allegory of the Sense of Smell),” about 1624-1625 by Rembrandt van Rijn (The image is courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York)