In 2016, the Dutch art dealer Jan Six purchased a 17th-century portrait of an unidentified young man at a Christie’s auction in London. The painting, which shows its sitter draped in a luxurious velvet cloak with an ornate lace collar, was classified as being from the “school of Rembrandt.” But Six, an expert in Old Masters paintings, suspected that the unsigned work was by Rembrandt himself.
This week, following 18 months of research, Six published a book arguing that “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” should indeed be attributed to the famed Dutch artist, as Nina Siegal reports for the New York Times. His research has been backed by around a dozen Rembrandt experts—and if they are correct in their assessment, “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” is the first new Rembrandt to come to light in 44 years.
The portrait is believed to have been painted in 1634 or 1635, when Rembrandt was in his late 20s. According to Bart H. Meijer of Reuters, the work was likely cut out from a larger painting, which may have also featured the gentleman’s wife. Prior to Six’s discovery, “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” was completely unknown; there are no literary references attributing it to the artist. The last time a “new” Rembrandt surfaced was in 1974, when a small work titled “The Baptism of the Eunuch” was fully attributed to the Dutch master.
Six has a special connection to Rembrandt. His ancestor, also named Jan Six, sat for Rembrandt for a 1654 portrait. Six the (much) Younger, tells Naomi Rea of Artnet News that he began to suspect that “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” was a Rembrandt from the moment he saw it in the auction catalogue.
“Lots of great details gave away that Rembrandt was the artist,” he says. “Observe the curling of the lace ruff at its edges, you can almost put your finger under it! For me that was a clear giveaway, as none of Rembrandt’s contemporaries could pull this off.”
Once Six had the portrait in his possession, he began the long process of trying to verify its origins. According to Siegal of the Times, “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” was studied with paint sample analysis and scanning technologies like X-radiography. He consulted other experts, including Ernst van de Wetering, the world’s preeminent Rembrandt specialist. And Van de Wetering agreed that the work was painted by Rembrandt.
“I’m absolutely convinced,” Van de Wetering tells Siegal.
Other experts have been more reticent in their response to the painting. Petria Noble is the head of paintings conservation at the Rijksmuseum, which used scanning technology to compare “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” to two Rembrandt pendants. Noble tells Siegal that she thinks it is “possible” the newly discovered painting is a Rembrandt. But, she adds, “what I still want to be able to do is to investigate further.”
In an interview with Reuters TV, Six makes the case that “the greater group of Rembrandt scholars saw it, and see [that the portrait it genuine].”
“Now,” he continues, “it’s up to the public, those who love Rembrandt, to hopefully follow this conclusion.”
Art lovers who can make it to Amsterdam will be able to judge for themselves. “Portrait of a Young Gentleman” will be on display at the city’s Hermitage museum until June 15. After that, Six plans to sell the painting. He scooped it up for £137,000, or around $185,000, back in 2016. Now, it could be worth millions.