Some time ago, a small painting came to auction at New York's Bloomfield with an estimate of $500-800 that captured world attention.

It all started when the owner of the small auction house was in the basement of a consignor's home and was rummaging amongst old porcelain when he was asked if he could also sell a small, dusty painting.

The bidding started at $250. Two bidders who had discovered the painting online, who thought they knew more than their fellow auction-goers, rocketed the price of the painting to $870 000. A thousand times more than the estimate.

The painting was sold on September 22nd at Nye & Company Auctions in Bloomfield cataloged it as "Triple Portrait of lady. The continental school, 1800s. Oil on panel, unsigned".
It was something of a gamble, but when the art dealer Talabardon & Gautier let their conservator wash away dirt and dissolve the old yellowed varnish, the signature, RHF, was revealed.
It turned out, after careful investigation, to be the first known signed painting by one of the world's greatest and most famous artists of all time - Rembrandt van Rijn.


The discovery is one of five paintings that describe our five senses. At the time, there were already three known paintings in the Rembrandt series which represented hearing, touch and sight. All of which are now part of important collections, two belonging to The Leiden Collection in New York and one to the Leiden Museum De Lakenhal.
This work, which symbolises the sense of smell, was sold shortly before the exhibition at the Leiden Museum.

blog.php-182 The painting as it looks today, with the signature in the upper right corner

In the 1700's, it was documented that the painting was by Rembrandt, but later, the authenticity was doubted, and soon the information fell into oblivion. During the 1700's, Rembrandt made a change to the painting to better fit contemporary ideals. The painting was enlarged and a "frame" made of wood painted to look like the original was added, background figures were added to resemble a classical figural scene, something that suited 1700's tastes.

blog.php-326 Rembrandt's touch painting was displayed in New York, at The Leiden Collection

blog.php-327 Rembrandt's painting "The Three Musicians" symbolises hearing. The painting is in New York, in The Leiden Collection

blog.php-328 "The Spectacle Seller" is in Leiden, in the Museum De Lakenhal

Art dealers have decided to keep the original "extension", but show the painting in a frame that opens up to show how the painting looked when it was found, and after the restoration.


As well as a sensational story that may well have begun on Barnebys, it is also a proof of how art and antique dealers' do good for building the world's continuing art history.
It is also found evidence that knowledge pays off in our industry.
From an initial bid of $250 at a small auction in New York, the painting was sold to Lieden Museum for more than €3 million just before TEFAF.

Today, four of the five of Rembrandt's senses paintings have been found. This means that a painting symbolising the fifth sense, taste, is still missing.
Who knows, maybe it will pop up on Barnebys.

Keep your eyes and ears open!