Art collector and gallery owner Cliff Schorer might have a genuine painting from Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn that has been missing since 1935. If he is successful at proving its authenticity and consensus from Rembrandt experts, it could be worth $10 million or more.
The Rembrandt head study, titled Bredius 262 and last seen in 1935, is of a distinctive older man’s face featuring a bulbous, red nose; a droopy eye; and a shaggy beard. Even Schorer initially thought it was a copy. But after Schorer purchased the small painting of the old man from a Maryland auction house last year for $288,000, the art detective has been working hard to prove its authenticity, provenance, and possible value.
Schorer has already successfully discovered a work by German Old Master Albrecht Dürer priced for $30 at a yard sale but truly worth tens of millions of dollars. More recently, he located a missing painting by Dutch master Hendrick Avercamp after spotting an image of it on an $18 throw pillow. But Rembrandt taught scores of students how to copy his paintings and self-portraits, and there are copies of those copies circulating around the world.
In order for Schorer to prove he rightfully owns the Rembrandt he needed to trace its journey to Maryland, consult other Rembrandt experts, and establish it was produced before the painter’s students could copy it. This challenge in addition to his usual workload: personal collecting, gallery ownership of Agnews, and responsibilities as the board president of the Worcester Museum of Art.
Schorer’s research and travels revealed that the head study was not stolen from Josef Block, the German Jewish artist, but smuggled out of Germany by art historian Numa Trivas before the Nazis invaded the country and then sold in the US. According to Boston Magazine, who first reported the story, Schorer also learned that the couple who bought from Trivas later donated it to a monastery in Montecito, California. Priests saved the painting from the 2008 Tea Fire and it was sent to a monastery in New York, who put it up for auction through Weschler’s.
“When this piece reappeared on the market at our auction in September 2021 after so many years in a private collection, the magic of auction was on full display and excitement rippled through the small group of Rembrandt scholars and buyers,” Weschler’s spokesperson Allison Mulholland told ARTnews in an email. “Weschler’s has always supported further research on works that pass through our rooms and we will closely follow the development of scholarship on this painting with great interest.”
A German expert in wood identification, Dr. Peter Klein, said the painting was likely made in 1619 and used wood from the same tree as another Rembrandt painting.
Art scholars Stephanie Dickey and Art Wheelock have also helped Schorer determine the painting of the old man was likely a character study for the 1630-1631 Rembrandt painting David Playing the Harp Before Saul.
Next month, Agnews will show the painting at the Sebastian Izzard gallery in Manhattan’s Upper East Side as part of the Master Drawings New York art fair. Meanwhile Schorer is already busy conducting research on other art finds.
Since the possible Rembrandt acquisition, Schorer told Boston Magazine he found a Middle-Kingdom Egyptian priestess of Isis sculpture at a Buffalo auction house and a “major Italian Baroque painting.”
Schorer’s his ultimate goal is to find something so spectacular that it would prompt him to sell everything he owns — his other paintings, his multiple homes, and his gallery business. “The end goal,” he told Boston Magazine, “is to die in a cardboard box with one truly great masterpiece.”