Brothers Auction Old Painting From Basement With a Starting Bid of $250, Turns Out it Was a Rembrandt


Three brothers did not know that their mom’s old painting was worth millions of dollars until it sold at an auction for $1.1 million.

The painting was a mid-1620s oil painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt, that had been missing until it was found in the New Jersey basement, the Philly Voice reported.

“Unconscious Patient (Allegory of Smell)” shows two men trying to revive a woman with smelling salts. It is one of four known parts of Rembrandt’s allegorical works on the five senses he painted as a teenager. The fifth, “Allegory of Taste,” has not been recovered.

Ned, Roger and Steven Landau’s story was featured on Fox Business‘ “Strange Inheritance.”

After their mom died in 2010, the three brothers cleaned out her house and decided to sell the items that they didn’t have a need for.

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“We had a garage sale, but there were a few things like the china and silver that looked very nice and we thought, well, we don’t really want to just give them away,” Ned Landau told the show’s host Jamie Colby.

The small painting was unsettling to Ned Landau during his childhood, and he recalled “As a kid I thought, ‘why did we have a painting like that in our dining room?'”

Their mother’s nicer items lived in Roger Landau’s basement for four years before approaching an appraiser, John Nye, who gave them an estimate of a few hundred dollars for the painting, Philly Voice reported.

“It had varnish that had cracked and paint loss,” Nye said, according to Fox. “Not a beautiful painting and the people in the picture were not beautiful people. It was remarkably unremarkable.”

Nye & Company was asked to handle the sale at an auction in 2015. The starting bid for the painting started at $250.

“If I get my, you know, few hundred dollars, I’ll be extremely happy,” Steven Landau thought, according to Fox.

A phone bidder from France suddenly raised the price to $5,000 and got into a battle with a German phone bidder over the painting.

The Frenchman finally purchased the painting for $1.1 million. The German caller explained the bidding war to Amy Ludlow who was handling his call.

“He said, ‘Amy, it was a Rembrandt,'” Ludlow recalled. “‘I’ve been looking for this paining my whole adult professional career.'”

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The Landaus believe the painting could have been obtained by their grandfather at an auction before the Great Depression.

Ned Landau now fondly remembers the unsettling painting from his childhood. “It’s one of Rembrandt’s best!” he told Colby.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith