Early Rembrandt Found in Basement Goes On Display

The painting is one of five in a series about the senses that the Dutch master created as a teenager

"The Unconscious Patient (Allegory of the Sense of Smell)," about 1624 - 1625 by Rembrandt van Rijn Image courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York

When a small painting featuring three figures, one swooning and dressed in colored robes, came to the block at an auction house in New Jersey this past September, the listed price was just $500 to $800. However, bids for the artwork would soar to $870,000 after two Pairs art dealers identified it as an early piece by 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, reports Brian Boucher for artnet News

“We weren’t completely certain at the time that it was authentic. ... Maybe 90% certain,” one of the dealers, Bertrand Talabardon, tells David Ng of the Los Angeles Times. The subjects' dress, the painting style and similarities to Rembrandt's series on the five senses helped then to identify the Rembrandt, however.

The swooning young person in the foreground is being revived by an elderly woman using a rag laden with some pungent chemical, while a richly bejeweled man looks on. The painting, titled "The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell)," dates from 1624, when Rembrandt was around 18 years old, reports Ng. The work was found in a basement of a family home.

Restoration and cleaning revealed an artist's monogram in the upper left corner of the painting that reads "RF." Those initials stand for "Rembrandt Fecit" or "Made by Rembrandt," Ng notes.

"It is believed to be the earliest signature by Rembrandt on a work of art," he adds. The dealers won the auction and then resold the painting to American billionaire Thomas S. Kaplan.

The painting will go on loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. The exhibition, on display starting May 11, will also feature "The Stone Operation (An Allegory of the Sense of Touch)" and "The Three Musicians (An Allegory of the Sense of Hearing)," also of the Leiden Collection, according to a press release

"The Three Musicians (An Allegory of Hearing)," about 1624 - 1625 by Rembrandt van Rijn Image courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York

"The Spectacle Seller (An Allegory of the Sense of Sight) remains in the Lakenhal Museum in the Netherlands. The fifth painting of the series, an allegory of taste, hasn't been found. The museum's director, Timothy Potts, describes exactly how thrilling it is to have found "The Unconscious Patient" in the release:

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. This special installation provides a unique opportunity to witness him at the genesis of his career, some four hundred years ago, as a young man of only eighteen or nineteen just beginning on his professional career. While it is not yet the Rembrandt we know from his maturity, these works already demonstrate his experimental approach and show some of the emotional intensity that was to be an enduring features of his work.

"The Stone Operation (Allegory of Touch)," about 1624-1625 by Rembrandt van Rijn Image courtesy of The Leiden Collection, New York

The exhibition will stay at the J. Paul Getty Museum until August 28, when it will travel internationally.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.