Love at first price

She was just a little old lady, a rather homely one at that, and he was already married, but for Dutch art dealer Robert Noortman, it was love at first sight. So he bought her for $28.7 million. It was a world record price for a Rembrandt painting, but Noortman wanted the "Portrait of a Lady" so badly that he was willing to pay nearly $22 million more than the auctioneers at Christie's in London thought she was worth. "Portrait of a Lady," signed and dated by Rembrandt in 1632, was part of a sale of a huge collection assembled by the late Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild. But what Robert Noortman saw transcended the ordinary masterpiece, if there is such a thing. "There is such feeling in it that you fall in love with the old lady just looking at it," he said. "I fell in love with her even though she's meant to be 62 - and my wife didn't mind." From the practical point of view, said Noortman, owner of a gallery in Maastricht, "it is the best Rembrandt to come up at auction for decades, and he was one of our greatest painters. So I am very happy." "You can tell that the woman in this painting must have been someone Rembrandt really liked," the art dealer insisted, "because it is so intimate." Indeed, according to art files, the woman in "Portrait of a Lady" was a friend of the artist, her name was Aeltje Uylenburgh, and she was, as Noortman said, 62 years old, with dark eyes and a somewhat chubby face. She was the wife of a Calvinist clergyman, Johannes Sylvius, who also was a friend of Rembrandt's, UPI reports.

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