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An early work by Rembrandt,thought to represent his father’s descent into blindness, will go on sale today at Frieze Masters for a price of £24m.
Described by the seller, the Swiss art dealer David Koetser, as “among the most important Leiden-period Rembrandts remaining in private hands”, Blind Tobit with the Return of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael has been in the same American collection since 1978.
The painting, completed with the assistance of his pupil Gerrit Dou, was created around 1628-29 and is believed to illustrate Rembrandt’s concern for his father, Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn, who went blind in his final years. It was restored this summer and the discoloured varnish, which had dulled the image, was removed.
Scholars have for centuries debated whether the work can be recognised as a pure Rembrandt, and the gallery admits that it has a “mixed attributional legacy”.
In the late 20th century, the Rembrandt Research Project, a scholarly initiative, “expressed reservations” about Rembrandt’s authorship of the work after affirming it 12 years earlier. But since then, a “group of well-respected scholars and connoisseurs” has asserted that the painting is indeed a Rembrandt, the gallery says. “Having weighed all the evidence in the entire attributional dossier in its consideration, [the gallery] adjudges Tobit as Rembrandt with Dou,” it said in a statement.
Rembrandt would have created the painting while still in his early 20s and living in Leiden, where he was born. His father died in 1630. It depicts a scene from the Old Testament’s Book of Tobit, which tells the story of a son’s quest to restore the sight of his ageing, frail father. The tale fascinated Rembrandt, who executed numerous works on the subject.
David Koetser says Blind Tobit is “a wonderful piece of painting, in great condition and a really emotional masterpiece by Rembrandt”.