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How I stumbled on a lost Rembrandt

Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images

Jan Six, dapper heir to the Six art collection, talks in a soothing murmur of his love of Rembrandt, says Russell Shorto in a podcast for The Daily. It started when he was a child, in the “blue salon” of his family’s 56-room mansion on the River Amstel, in Amsterdam. There hangs one of Rembrandt’s most admired works, a portrait of his ancestor, who was a friend of the artist – the first Jan Six. “The eyes in that painting are genetically my eyes,” says Six. The melancholy gaze of his ancestor inspired him to become a dealer of Old Masters.

One chilly morning in November 2016, Six made a life-changing discovery – and in an unlikely way. Not by rummaging around in a remote church, but by going through his mail. Opening a Christie’s catalogue, he was “stopped cold” by a portrait of a young gentleman. The piercing gaze was familiar. It bore the mark of an early Rembrandt: the rounded brushstrokes, the variety of painting styles, the lace collar in a style that was briefly fashionable in the early 1630s. Most telling of all was the gaze. The catalogue said the painting was by a follower of Rembrandt, but Six was convinced it was by the man himself.

He may be right. Ernst van de Wetering, a leading authority on Rembrandt, thinks he is. At any rate, Six secured Portrait of a Young Gentleman for a mere £137,000, and it now hangs in his studio. When Shorto went to look at his collection, Six turned off the lights and lit candles. “The flicker of the flames [breathed] life into the two-dimensional figures.” This, after all, was art made for candlelight. “Take away the noise and beauty will emerge,” says Six.

Listen to the full episode here.