Rembrandt’s ‘Head of a Young Man’
Rembrandt’s ‘Head of a Young Man’ which was knocked down at £8.2m at Sotheby’s in November and has now gone on view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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Head of a young man, with clasped hands: Study of the figure of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) drew a great deal of media attention ahead of the auction on December 5.

It came to auction from a vendor whose grandmother had bought it in 1956 but, during conservation work in 2001, two fingerprints were discovered on the work which were presumed to be those of the artist himself.

Estimated at £6m-8m, it was announced shortly before the auction that it had become subject to a third-party guarantee. As bidding appeared to stall at £5.5m on the night, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Masters George Wachter drew gasps when he jumped in at £8m, before another party bid £8.2m and the gavel fell.

The price with premium was £9.5m and Sotheby's have now confirmed that it was acquired by an agent acting for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. 

The work has become the first Rembrandt known to have entered a public collection in the Gulf region and makes its first appearance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi as part of the exhibition Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre that opened on February 14.

Following the exhibition, which runs until May 18, it will join other works in the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection.

Sotheby's viewing Dubai of Rembrandt's ‘Head of a Young Man’

Ahead of the auction, Sotheby’s took the Rembrandt portrait to Dubai in October 2018 where it was unveiled in an exhibition there by Noura Al Kaabi, left, the UAE minister of culture. Also pictured (from left to right) are George Gordon, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Master paintings, Katia Nounou, head of Sotheby’s Dubai office, and Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s chairman for the Middle East and India.

The acquisition follows the unveiling of 11 new additions to the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection in October. These included a monumental 11th-12th century Buddhist sculpture from China, four tapestries from French royal manufacturers depicting The Hunts of Maximilian, the Duke of Brabant, as well as a rate suit of 15th-16th century Ottoman horse armour.

However, one work that has yet to go on view is the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s biggest purchase – Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi which was famously sold for an all-time auction record $400m ($450m with premium) at Christie’s New York in November 2017.

It was announced in September by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism that the unveiling of the picture at the museum was being postponed, and it remains a subject of speculation as to when it will eventually go on view. 

Rembrandt’s ‘Head of a Young Man’

The portrait was one of a small series of oil sketches painted by Rembrandt ‘after life’ of the same sitter who is believed to have come from the Jewish community in Amsterdam. It is the first work by Rembrandt to join a museum collection in the Gulf.

“Intensely moving”

Rembrandt’s Head of a young man is one of the artist’s seven surviving oil sketches from the Face of Jesus group. 

Painted on oak panel between 1648-56 and measuring 10 x 8in (25.5 x 20cm), it was identified as an autograph work in the 1930s. Ahead of the auction in December, Sotheby’s said the portrait was “one of a small series of informal but intensely moving oil sketches” painted by Rembrandt of the same young man, who came from the neighbourhood in Amsterdam where the artist lived.