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Sotheby's presents a masterpiece by Dutch artist Rembrandt at Beijing Art Week
A woman looks at Rembrandt's "Portrait of a Man With Arms Akimbo" at Sotheby's exhibition in Beijing on November 28, 2013. A 50 million USD Rembrandt painting, alongside masterpieces of Picasso Renoir or Rodin, are on sale in Beijing, showing the growing appetite of rich Chinese for Western art. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO.

BEIJING.- Sotheby’s presented a masterpiece of portraiture, Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, by acclaimed Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 – 1669) at Sotheby’s Beijing Art Week from 28 November to 1 December 2013. Dated 1658, this rare, powerful portrait is one of the last works from Rembrandt’s late career left in private hands. Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, along with other prominent works that focus on depictions of the figure by some of the critical artists in the history of western art, are being featured at the selling exhibition of MODERN MASTERS: From Rembrandt to Picasso – Representation of the Figure in Western Art in Beijing.

David Norman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, commented: “Rembrandt was the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age, the period spanning nearly the whole of the 17th century when the Netherlands was one of the most economically empowered nations in the world and the cultural centre of Europe. Dutch artists, scientists and tradesmen were amongst the most innovative and creative in the Western world. The preeminent artist of that period was Rembrandt. A master at depicting biblical and historical subjects, the Dutch artist was also one of the greatest painters of the figure in the history of art. Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo is a deeply penetrating painting with a subtle and complex array of tonalities. No other painter could rival Rembrandt’s mastery of portraiture and his ability to capture and relay the very essence and character of the sitter. Though centuries old, these paintings still move us and reveal the timeless nature of the human condition.

“With the growing appetite for quality Western art in Asia, Sotheby’s is honoured to be able to bring this exceptional masterpiece from the 17th century by one of the greatest artists in European history to the art centre and capital of China, offering the increasingly sophisticated Chinese collectors an opportunity to view this work of great importance, and appreciate Rembrandt’s powerful mastery of painting that has inspired later generations of artists.”

Following his arrival in Amsterdam in 1631, Rembrandt had enjoyed remarkable professional success in his early career as one of the most sought-after portraitists in the city. Although his later years were marked by financial hardship, Rembrandt remained a figure of international renown throughout his artistic career, sought after by the rich, famous and noble.

Executed in 1658, Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo was created in one of the most innovative but also the most difficult moments of the artist’s career. Only two other works dated 1658 in Rembrandt’s entire oeuvre are known to exist. Deviating from the realist painting style of his earlier portraits, Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo focuses on the play of light, the illusion of colour within a restricted palette, and the evocative emotions of the subject. The soft brushstrokes, more atmospheric and painterly qualities of the present work were revolutionary at the time.

Peter Sutton, Executive Director of the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, Greenwich, describes the painting as “a boldly conceived work painted in his [Rembrandt’s] most assured and painterly later manner.” As noted in Sutton’s essay on the exhibition: “It [the portrait] depicts the sitter frontally and three quarter length with arms akimbo. The unidentified sitter meets the viewer’s gaze with a steady and confident expression, bordering on defiance…A strong light falls from the upper left illuminating his face and catching highlights on his right shoulder and the sleeve of his left arm, expertly turning the figure in space and impressing on the viewer the sitter’s substance and authority…The effect is of a rich abundance of textures, despite a limited palette of only a few colours.”

The provenance of Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo is notable. The ownership of the painting can be traced back to the 18th century when it was kept by Daniel Daulby (d. 1797), one of the most celebrated British collectors of Rembrandt’s works in his day. When first appeared in Daulby’s sale in 1798, the painting was characterised as “universally acknowledged by some of the finest judges in the kingdom to be a genuine and very capital picture of the …master, and is in high preservation.” Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo was subsequently acquired by several distinguished art collectors through the course of the 18th and 19th century. In 1930, the work was sold at Sotheby’s in London, and was later acquired in 1939 by George Huntington Hartford II, heir to the Atlantic & Pacific supermarket chain and a member of one of the wealthiest families in America, who described the painting as “the greatest Rembrandt portrait I have ever seen”. Hartford donated the painting to the Columbia University in 1958, who sold it to the dealer Harold Diamond in 1974 to support the endowment fund. It was acquired in the same year by J. Steward Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. The painting was later consigned to sell in London in 2009, where it was purchased by the Las Vegas casino owner, Steve Wynn.

Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo first appeared at an exhibition at the British Institution in London in 1847. It was also shown in other major exhibitions including Three Hundred Years – An exhibition of Rembrandt and his Followers at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1969 to 1970.

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