It is a Rembrandt but not a self-portrait

LONDON. The “laughing man” that sold for £2.6m ($5.1m) in a Gloucestershire auction last October is indeed a Rembrandt, but not a self-portrait. Origin­ally estimated at £3,000, it could now be worth up

to £20m.

It was a UK collector, not a dealer, who placed the winning bid. The guffawing figure may look like the youthful, boisterous Rem­brandt, and it has just been confirmed to have been painted by him. However, Rembrandt Research Project director Professor Ernst van der Wetering believes it should not be regarded as a “self-portrait”, but as a “laughing trony”, a Dutch term for “face”. Rem­brandt was not attempting to produce a portrait of himself, but rather to depict the act of laughter. Professor van der Wetering has therefore christened the painting Rembrandt Laughing.

Last month it went on display at the Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam, fully authenticated as by the artist, and dating from around 1628. The Rembrandt­huis revealed that the owner of the picture is a private British collector, not (as has been speculated) a dealer. It was he who took the considerable risk of paying £2.6m for a painting described by auctioneers Moore Allen & Innocent as by a “follower” of Rembrandt.

It had apparently been owned by an English family for many years. Inevitably, at some point the painting will come onto the market again, and no doubt the trade will then be tempted to sell it as a Rembrandt “self-portrait”, to give it that extra cachet. Rembrandt would but smile if he knew how we agonise over titles.

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