In a dramatic turn of events, a Rembrandt painting titled “The Adoration of The Kings” (ca. 1628), once thought lost, resurfaced at a Christie’s sale in Amsterdam in 2021, only to be sold at Sotheby’s auction this month for nearly $14 million. This staggering sum represents a significant surge in value from just two years ago.
The journey of this rediscovered masterpiece is marked by intrigue and debate. Initially catalogued by Christie’s as a work from the “circle” of Rembrandt, it garnered intense interest during the 2021 auction, ultimately selling for almost $1 million. Fueling the speculation were bidders who believed it might be an authentic work by the Old Master.
After an extensive eight-month research, Sotheby’s confirmed the painting’s status as a genuine Rembrandt. They estimated its potential value to be $18 million, and during the auction house’s Old Masters and 19th-century paintings evening sale in London on December 6, it was sold for £10.9 million ($13.7 million).
The rigorous authentication process employed by Sotheby’s included infrared and x-ray imaging and scrutiny by leading scholars. To fortify its position as a Rembrandt original, the auction house published an extensive essay delving into the painting’s history and the techniques employed by Rembrandt in its creation.
Measuring a modest 9.6 inches by 7.2 inches, the artwork utilizes an almost entirely monotone palette, reminiscent of Rembrandt’s other small, monochromatic paintings created for etchings of the compositions. The scene depicts the Biblical narrative of foreign kings visiting Mary in a stable upon the birth of Jesus, bearing thematic resemblance to another alleged Rembrandt, “The Adoration of the Magi,” discovered in 2016.
The first documented record of “The Adoration of The Kings” dates back to 1714 when it appeared in the inventory of Dutch collector Constantijn Ranst. However, Sotheby notes the uncertainty surrounding whether this record pertains to the work in question.
Subsequently changing hands, the painting largely vanished from public view from around 1822 until approximately 1955, when it surfaced in a catalogue of the collection of Dutch art collector J.C.H. Heldring. It was the last time the painting was attributed to Rembrandt.
The painting’s Rembrandt attribution faced challenges over the years. German historian Kurt Bauch in 1960 cast doubt on its authorship based on a black-and-white photograph, while scholar Werner Sumowski mistakenly labelled it a “studio work” in 1979. From that point, it lost its status as a Rembrandt—until its unexpected reemergence at the Christie’s sale in 2021.
The saga of “The Adoration of The Kings” adds another layer to the fascinating art authentication and rediscovery world, leaving the art community captivated by the twists and turns in the fortunes of this resurfaced Rembrandt masterpiece.