Bidding fever turns suspect Rembrandt into star

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LONDON, Oct 27 (Reuters) An oil portrait dismissed for years as a copy of a Rembrandt and priced at just 1,000 pounds has sold for 2.5 million pounds after frantic bidding in a West England saleroom.

''To say the least, the owner is a very happy man today,'' Philip Allwood of auctioneers Moore, Allen&Innocent said by telephone from Cirencester.

''I managed to get in contact with him this morning. He is very interested in finding out how and when he will get the money,'' he added.

The painting, which hung for decades in a private house in Gloucestershire, is titled The Young Rembrandt as Democrates the Laughing Philosopher and signed H.L. Rembrandt.

''When I first saw the painting in the house, I said that must be the real thing. But he (the owner) said his father had had it checked out and it was just a copy,'' Allwood said.

''I had it sitting in my office for weeks, gradually getting more convinced it was authentic. So I sent photographs and my description of it to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. They replied that they too thought it was a copy,'' he added.

Reluctantly Allwood put the painting into yesterday's auction, with a guide price of between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds. But he also put it on the front cover of the auction catalogue and sent copies to all the main dealers, just in case.

On the day, droves of London dealers descended on the saleroom and others entered the bidding fray by telephone.

''The last phone bidder dropped out at around half a million and it came down to just two people bidding against each other in the room. It was absolutely electric,'' Allwood said.

The winner was an agent acting for an anonymous buyer.

''When the price goes over one million you know it is getting serious. I am told that I looked quite calm. But I can tell you the adrenalin was pumping,'' Allwood said.

If the painting is eventually recognised as a genuine Rembrandt, its new owner may have got a bargain. A painting by the Dutch artist sold for 25.8 million dollars in New York in January, while the record price for his work is nearly 29 million dollars.


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