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The paintings found at the auction are part of Dutch history

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Amsterdam — In the world of art, drawing is called a “sleeping car”. A small Massachusetts auction house, “an unidentified gentleman, initialized IL and dated 1652,” put it up for sale for an estimated $ 200 to $ 300. It sold for $ 500,000 within about 10 minutes.

The New York dealer Christopher Bishop, who purchased this piece, will bring it to TEFAF Maastricht, one of the world’s top art fairs, and will be listed on the final list of fair highlights at a asking price of € 1.35 million. (About $ 1.44 million).

How did it change from a little nothing to a big deal? History, you can say.

The story begins at the turn of the 17th century, when a 9-year-old Dutch boy named Marten Trump goes out to sea with his father, a naval officer. Three years later, a British pirate killed his father, but Marten joined the Dutch Navy in 1637, rising in rank and becoming commander of the Dutch fleet.

He was a determined combatant and often won. After a huge success in the First Anglo-Dutch War, he sat in Amsterdam seeking a formal portrait by Dutch master Jan Lievens. A year later, in 1653, he was killed by a British sniper during the battle, buried in a marble monument and celebrated as a Dutch national hero.

The original Levens painting was fixed (upside down) to the engraving plate, resulting in dozens of duplicate prints. Levens later painted a new painting based on his first painting, and Trump looked a little wise. This second drawing is now in the collection of the British Museum in London.

He also used the original drawings as the basis for Trump’s two oil paintings. One is now in the Rijksmuseum collection and the other is in his personal hands.

In 1943, this image of Trump became a template for stamps featuring Trump, a kind of nationalist gesture by the Dutch government during World War II.

The original drawings have been exchanged between individual collectors. The last catalog was created in the possession of Mayor William, a British collector who died in 1874, and was last published in 1888 at the Robert P. Rupel real estate auction in Frankfurt. After that, it was not published for 132 years.

In 2020, Bishop worked remotely during a coronavirus pandemic, scanning search results in an online auction catalog. An image of a painting at a small Marion antique auction house on the mainland of Massachusetts near Cape Cod caught his eye. He is allegedly signed “IL”, but the 17th century “J” was often written as “I”, so Bishop realized that the monogram could be “JL”.

“I put it deep in my heart, and then I pondered it for a few hours,” he said. “It just happened to me, why couldn’t it be Jan Lievens? Then I did some research online and saw the printed matter. This is the engraving by the printer. I thought it could be the original that made it. “

A few days later, Bishop was able to find a record of the mayor’s collection. It told him that the dimensions matched Marion’s painting and the monogram was written under Trump’s arm. He booked a viewing and drove to Massachusetts. He couldn’t get inside, so he brought it outside so that the auction house owner could see it on the porch.

“I knew it was a real painting and I felt very positive,” he said. “I was trying hard not to telegram them how optimistic I was.”

Frank McNamie, co-owner of the Marion Auction, said he came from a family who was trying to auction a significant amount of hand-painted porcelain. He visited their house and was invited to a framed print room. The owner told him in a telephone interview, “Choose whatever you find valuable.” Mr. McNamie was intrigued by the portrait. “I actually thought it was a fake Rembrandt,” he said.

“We didn’t have enough time to actually investigate, but we made it featured in all auction ads,” McNamie added. He said they estimated it to be only a few hundred dollars, “assuming we might not be right.”

By the time it was released on October 10, 2020, it was clear that the painting had already attracted a lot of curiosity. Prior to the sale, more than 15 potential bidders called about it, with only 6 in the auction room for Covid, but at least 5 bid by phone. Many had the same idea as Mr. Bishop. They thought it might be a long lost revenge.

When auctioneer Dave Grin reached $ 200,000, he paused. “We seem to underestimate this,” he said before continuing.

After spending about $ 300,000, only two bidders remained, according to McNamie. They raised the price to $ 514,800. That was where the hammer fell. Even at that time, Mr. Bishop was not completely convinced that the painting was Levens.

“It had a lot of condition problems,” McNamie explained. “It was damaged and was laid or glued to the lining, which caused acid problems and burned into the work. From what I remember, it was a problem with it. Yes, there was a loss of paper to the work, but it wasn’t in the image. “

Bishop brought it back to New York. The restorer removed it from the backing paper and found that the painted paper had a watermark. This is an identification pattern that indicates the creators of the 17th century. It was a particularly unique papermaker used by both Levens and Rembrandt in Amsterdam in the 1650s. This is a clear sign of its authenticity.

When Bishop compared it to one of the prints made from subsequent engravings, many other elements were aligned: on pin pricks, specific creases and traces, and paper on which the drawings would have been attached to the plate. Even the remaining ink stains.

“There is no doubt that this is a portrait of Admiral Trump that was recorded in an old collection but has disappeared,” said Gregory Rubinstein, head of the Old Master Drawing Division at Sotheby’s in London. “This is a completely genuine and really important example of a portrait of Levens.”

Rubinstein was hearing about the draw at Marion’s sale. He saw this work in person for the first time in New York earlier this year. “It was more impressive than I expected,” he said. “It turned out to be all that one would have wanted.”

The January magazine Master Drawings published Rubinstein’s article on Revence’s paintings. He called it the “starting point of the great sequence of Trompiana”, or the iconography of “giant national importance”, and an important piece of the Netherlands. National heritage.

Rubinstein didn’t blame the little antique auctioneer for overlooking its importance, but he said there would be no doubt about its value among the old master enthusiasts of TEFAF. I did.

“Let’s say this. If we missed it, I didn’t have a job yet,” he said.