The small portrait of the artist’s daughter Clara Serena was ascribed to a follower of Rubens at the time the New York museum sold the work to Christie’s vendor in 2013.
However, it has since been cleaned and restored, which has had a “quite transformative” effect according to the auctioneers. Since the varnish and overpaint were removed, the 14.25 x 10.5in (36 x 26cm) oil on panel has been exhibited at The Rubenshuis in Antwerp and Scottish National Galleries.
Head of Old Master paintings at Christie’s London Henry Pettifer said: “The work had an earlier history of being by the artist but fell out of Rubens’ oeuvre in 1950s. It has now been bought back into Rubens’ body of work.”
He said the attribution has been endorsed by, among others, Katlijne Van der Stighelen, art historian and professor at the University of Leuven.
Addressing the question of the attribution, the Met Museum issued a comment which appeared in the Financial Times: “The attribution of the picture has been debated in the past and we believe it will continue to be debated. Given the strength of our holdings in this area, we stand by the decision to deaccession the work.”
The work itself depicts Clara aged about 12, around the time of her untimely death, and was probably never intended for public display. Another Rubens portrait of the sitter aged five is in the Princely Collections of Lichtenstein.
Pettifer said: “Rubens’ paintings of his family members, freer and bolder than those of his wealthy clientele, count among his greatest achievements in portraiture. This spontaneous likeness of Clara Serena, his only daughter with his wife Isabella Brant, is extraordinary for its intimacy and timeless appeal.”
It will be offered at Christie’s Old Masters evening sale on July 5, during the auctioneers’ Classic Week of sales.
Rare Rembrandt print
Another key lot offered in the same sale is an extremely rare Rembrandt (1606-69) drypoint from 1655.
Christ Presented to The People (‘Ecce Homo’) is considered among the artist’s greatest achievements in the printed medium but only eight impressions of the first state of this large print are known to still exist. Seven of these are in museum collections, including in the British Museum, the Met Museum, the Ashmolean Museum and the Louvre.
The work at Christie’s is the last-known example in private hands.
Christie’s has estimated the work ‘in the region of £2.2m-3.5m’, an unprecedented level for an individual Rembrandt print.
The auctioneers said the work, which dates from Rembrandt’s third decade as a printmaker, “epitomises an artist at the height of his powers, both artistically and technically”. It is described as in “very good condition, rich with burr and has beautiful, selectively-wiped, plate tone throughout”.
It comes to auction from an important private collection – that of the late Samuel Josefowitz who died in 2015.
Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkanen said: “Sam Josefowitz was among the greatest Old Master print collectors of his generation.... This impression is a celebration of the skills of Rembrandt, the master printmaker, and Sam Josefowitz, the most scholarly and respected of collectors.”