Sometimes, additional provenance information about a painting can significantly increase its perceived value. In the case of a small nocturne showing a Biblical scene, a shift in attribution from the Circle of Rembrandt to the actual Dutch master himself has increased its auction estimate by several hundred-fold.
When The Adoration of the Kings was last auctioned by Christie’s in Amsterdam in 2021, it had an estimate of €10,000 to €15,000. Sotheby’s is now listing the oil on oak panel with an estimate of £10 million to £15 million ($12.2 million to $18.4 million) as part of its OId Masters and 19th-century paintings evening sale in London on December 6. The work will also have a third-party guarantee, according to the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news.
The work ended up at Christie’s in Amsterdam after being consigned by a private family collection in Germany. According to its provenance history, it was first acquired by the Dutch collector Johannes Carel Hendrik Heldring in 1955. Even though it was attributed to Circle of Rembrandt during that online sale in October 2021, the painting caught enough attention to garner bids shooting well past its estimate to close at €860,000, including fees.
According to the Art Newspaper, Sotheby’s specialist George Gordon was approached by the winning bidder from the Amsterdam sale to reattribute the work to Rembrandt, a research project which spanned 18 months and included infrared imaging technology.
One of the most prominent scholars who supported Gordon’s reattribution efforts was Volker Manuth, who co-wrote a 2019 catalogue raisonné of the Dutch master’s paintings.
Gordon told the Art Newspaper the estimate was based on recent sales made by the Sotheby’s for works by Rembrandt, including a self-portrait that was sold in July 2020 for £14.5 million (with fees) against an estimate of £12 million to £16 million. In 2018, an oil sketch for a head of Christ sold for £9.5 million with fees on an estimate of £8 million to £10 million. It was purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Sales information from other auction houses that informed the estimate include the panel painting Abraham and Angels (ca. 1646) at Sotheby’s in New York offered it in 2021. The work was withdrawn from public auction, but was sold privately shortly afterward “within its original estimate of $20 million–$30 million”.
Christie’s also holds the world auction record for Rembrandt, with Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (1658) selling for €23.2 million with fees in 2009. That price wasn’t far from the $25.8 million achieved by another biblical scene by Rembrandt, Saint James the Greater (1661), when it was auctioned in 2007.