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Art

The Rembrandt Devotees on the Hunt for Undiscovered Masterpieces

Film still from  My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Film still from My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

When documentary filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk originally decided to follow the art dealer Jan Six XI in his search for undiscovered paintings, she had no idea that during the next four years, Mr. Six would potentially discover two.
Nor could she anticipate that one of the most dramatic art buying tussles in recent history would take place before her camera’s lens, when the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris vied for ownership of a pair of full-length Rembrandt portraits. The competition resulted in a rare and record-breaking €160-million (around $179 million) joint purchase from French banker Eric de Rothschild.
Film still from My Rembrandt, 2019. © Screenocean/Reuters.

Film still from My Rembrandt, 2019. © Screenocean/Reuters.

“I didn’t know,” said Hoogendijk. “I work like cooking; you have a few ingredients in your refrigerator and you see what you can make. I knew that Jan would be an exciting storyline because he already had found a Rembrandt and he was on the hunt for another. But I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Such is the luck of the documentarist who lands on a timeless subject whose work still elicits strong responses from collectors, dealers, and museum professionals worldwide. Hoogendijk’s 2014 documentary, The New Rijksmuseum, followed the decade-long renovation and expansion of the Dutch national museum. Inspired by its collection of Rembrandt paintings—the largest in the world—she turned her focus to the artist himself.
Film still from  My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Film still from My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

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The result is My Rembrandt (2019), an art documentary with surprisingly dramatic twists and turns, focused on individuals who try to discover Rembrandt masterpieces.
The Duke of Buccleuch searches for a new place in his castle—high above the misty, rolling hills of Scotland—to rehang Rembrandt’s Old Woman Reading (1631), which has been in his family collection for more than 250 years. Eric de Rothschild reveals that his Rembrandt pendants of husband and wife Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit once hung on either side of his bed. American investor Thomas S. Kaplan, whose collection of 17 Rembrandts toured museums around the world, confesses that he once kissed his painting Study of a Woman in a White Cap (ca. 1640) full on the lips.
Film still from  My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Film still from My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

This series of filmic portraits shows us that centuries after his death, Rembrandt continues to reveal the true nature of each individual he encounters. Through collectors’ relationships with their Rembrandt paintings, Hoogendijk shows that we can discover whether they are scholarly or vainglorious, timid or competitive, introverted and private, or in need of constant external validation.
The central protagonist is Jan Six XI, an Amsterdam-based art dealer specializing in Dutch . Six XI is the direct descendant of Jan Six, a 17th-century Dutch merchant and statesman who sat for Rembrandt and was a friend of the artist. His contemporary namesake grew up in a house containing Portrait of Jan Six (1654), one of the most valuable Rembrandt paintings still in private hands (estimated today at upwards of $150 million), as well as hundreds of other portraits of family members, dating back as far as 400 years.
Film still from  My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Film still from My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

In the film, Six XI and his father, Jan Six X, give a tour of the extraordinary family collection still hanging in their home on the Amstel River in Amsterdam and argue over the meanings of the canvases they’ve inherited. Six XI, who previously ran the Old Masters Department at Sotheby’s in Amsterdam, and established his own art dealing firm in Amsterdam, Jan Six Fine Art, finds his father’s “unscientific” approach to the works dismaying.
Eager to establish himself as more than “just” the scion of an aristocratic dynasty, the younger Six buys two vaguely attributed 17th-century paintings at auction. He’s convinced they’re undiscovered Rembrandt works and attempts to confirm their authenticity. One is a group portrait that has been overpainted by a less accomplished painter, and Six XI works with the restorer Martin Bijl to scrape away the paint layer and reveal the Rembrandt underneath.
Film still from  My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Film still from My Rembrandt , 2019. © Discours Film.

Six XI manages to authenticate the other painting, Portrait of a Young Gentleman (ca. 1633–35), with the help of the world’s leading Rembrandt expert, Ernst van de Wetering. Six XI is extremely proud to publish a book, Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Young Gentleman (2018), which substantiates his find. The publication makes international news and receives worldwide approbation.
In the meantime, however, Six XI is accused of cheating Bijl’s son, the art dealer Sander Bijl, with whom Six XI apparently made an agreement to co-purchase Portrait of a Young Gentleman. Six XI’s neatly constructed house of cards begins to collapse, with van de Wetering ultimately writing him off as a friend.
“In the end it’s not really a film on Rembrandt,” said Hoogendijk. “It’s about what he does with us. Because he still has a grip on us. It’s like a like a mirror, reflecting what Rembrandt brings out in people. It could be love, it could be jealousy or greed, and it could be betrayal.”
Nina Siegal