Keep your eyes open for the February issue of The Blue and White, coming to campus tomorrow. Until then, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting highlights of the upcoming issue online. Among the treats to look forward to: financial aid for international undergrads, a look at Columbia’s strange investment in a supposedly safer cigarette, and the Sisyphean struggle of Bacchanal. Here, magazine contributor Naomi Sharp investigates the journey of Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo.”
A Rembrandt painting that Columbia sold in 1974 for $1 million—$4 million today—is once again on the market, now with a price tag of $47 million.
This development is only the latest chapter in the odd history of Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo,” dated 1658. The painting was donated to Columbia in 1958 by supermarket billionaire George Huntington Hartford II, on the condition that it be sold to fund neurological research in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. When the Vietnam War ignited the 1968 student occupation of Low, protesters in the president’s office allowed the painting to be removed for safekeeping.
Amid doubts of the painting’s authenticity, Columbia sold “Portrait of a Man” to John Seward Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson consumer empire. Upon Johnson’s death in 2004, the painting resurfaced at an auction at London. It was proven to be a genuine Rembrandt and sold for $33 million.
The buyer was Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas casino owner. In the art world, Wynn isn’t exactly known for his curatorial finesse; during a now-infamous dinner party in 2006, while showing off his private collection to guests (including Nora Ephron and Barbara Walters), he managed to poke a six-inch hole in Picasso’s masterpiece “Le Rêve” with his elbow.
Fortunately, “Portrait of a Man” emerged unscathed from its brief stint with Wynn. In 2009 Wynn sold the painting—intact—to Otto Naumann Ltd, a private gallery on the Upper East Side. A former college professor, Naumann left academia after learning that garbage workers in New York were striking to protest a salary that was higher than his own. Now, Naumann is one of the leading art collectors in New York. Dutch paintings fill his quiet three-room gallery, where the only visitors are potential buyers.