When Marie Curie was left a Rembrandt – or were we?

This is one in a series of blogs which explores some of the key and memorable moments of the charity’s past.

Portrait of a Cavalier - the "Rembrandt" left to Marie Curie in 2003
Portrait of a Cavalier - the "Rembrandt" left to Marie Curie in 2003

Back in winter 2003, Marie Curie benefited from the auction of one of the most intriguing items ever left in a supporter’s Will – a 17th century oil painting that appeared to be by Rembrandt.

The picture was left to four charities, including Marie Curie, which played a leading role in investigating its origins. The picture had been identified as a Rembrandt in 1948. However, Rembrandt ran a workshop in which students were encouraged to paint in his style, often using his signature. While the picture had been identified as a Rembrandt in 1948, subsequent Scholarship and scientific techniques reduced the number of verified original paintings in circulation over the second half of the 20th century. With hopes of a huge windfall, but knowing that the work was probably by another painter, Marie Curie ordered x-ray and audioradiography tests and expert opinion on the picture. Scholars concluded that the portrait was probably the work of Ferdinand Bol –a student of Rembrandt - or Govaert Flinck, who painted similar work. But the true identities of both the painter and the cavalier it portrays remain unknown. It sold for £60,000, bringing the charities £15,000 each. Had it been by Rembrandt, as its late owner had believed, it could have sold for £18 million. Following the sale, Legacies Administration Manager Patrick Darby said: “In the event it wasn’t as valuable as we had hoped, but it was still worth the effort and I am pleased to have played a part. And I love the picture.”

Other notable legacies received by Marie Curie over the years include a watercolour pen-and-ink painting by the celebrated 18th century British artist, Thomas Rowlandson;

a half-share in the rights to the poem The Green Eye of the Yellow God, by Milton Hayes; a Rolls-Royce; and antique furniture.

The charity is also regularly left money, property and shares. New Year is a good time to make a Will – and if you’re aged over 55 (or a regular Marie Curie volunteer of any age) you can benefit from our free Wills scheme. Read more about making a gift to Marie Curie.