NJ brothers learn painting stored under ping-pong table for years is a Rembrandt
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Slow on the draw

NJ brothers learn painting stored under ping-pong table for years is a Rembrandt

Ned, Roger and Steven Landau expected piece to fetch a few hundred dollars at auction. It went for $1.1 million. And that’s not the end of the story

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Detail from a painting owned by the Landau family of north New Jersey that turned out to be an original Rembrandt which sold for $1.1 million at auction. (Screenshot from Fox Business Network's series Strange Inheritance,  screened January 15, 2018.)
Detail from a painting owned by the Landau family of north New Jersey that turned out to be an original Rembrandt which sold for $1.1 million at auction. (Screenshot from Fox Business Network's series Strange Inheritance, screened January 15, 2018.)

Three Jewish New Jersey brothers can paint the town red after discovering that a painting that languished beneath their ping-pong table for years, and which they thought optimistically might be worth a few hundred dollars, is an original Rembrandt.

It sold at auction for $1.1 million at auction, according to Fox Business Network’s “Strange Inheritance” series. But it turned out to be worth even more.

The Dutch master painted “Unconscious Patient (Allegory of Smell)” in the 1620s, when he was just a teenager, as part of a five-painting series depicting the senses, the PhillyVoice website reported Tuesday.

Owned by Ned, Roger, and Steven Landau of Teaneck, it shows two men holding smelling salts under the nose of an apparently unconscious woman.

It passed from their grandmother to their mother, who died in 2010. Their grandfather had apparently bought it cheaply from an unknowing dealer before the Great Depression.

The Landau brothers, whose inherited painting turned out to be a Rembrandt which sold for $1.1 million. (Screenshot from Fox Business Network’s series Strange Inheritance, screened January 15, 2018.)

Most of their mother’s belongings were sold in a garage sale after her death, but one of the brothers, Ned, thought the painting — which found a home under a ping-pong table in Roger’s basement — might be worth something and should not be sold for a song.

When Roger moved the ping-pong table, the brothers decided it was time to sell the painting.

They asked John Nye, an appraiser, to value the work. His estimate: a few hundred dollars.

What Nye missed was the monograph RHF (“Rembrandt Harmenszoon fecit,” meaning “Rembrandt, son of Harmen, made this”) in the upper right of the work.

The brothers asked Nye and Company to auction the painting. Come the day, bidding started at $250. But some of the bidders recognized that the work was rather special.

“I even forgot when the auction was happening,” said Roger, according to Fox Business. “It was Yom Kippur and I don’t answer my phone.”

The auctioneer who sold a painting owned by three New Jersey brothers which turned out to be a Rembrandt that sold for $1.1 million. (Screenshot from Fox Business Network’s series Strange Inheritance, screened January 15, 2018.)

Offers kept coming in.

A French bidder offered $5,000, then got into a bidding war with a German buyer until the hammer came down in favor of the Frenchman… on a price of $1.1 million.

“Maybe one, two days after Yom Kippur I returned John’s call,” Roger said. “I asked, ‘Oh, so how’d the auction go?’ and he said, ‘Well, it actually went quite well.’”

The Frenchman said he had been looking for this painting throughout his career. But that didn’t mean he held onto it.

He has since sold the painting on to a Rembrandt collector, reportedly for $4 million.

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