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At the beginning of the 20th century there were 1,000 paintings by Rembrandt in existence. Now there are fewer than 300. They disappeared not through thefts, fires, or acts of God. Their numbers have shrunk because of the controversial process of attribution that began in the 1960s when the Dutch government began the Rembrandt Research Project.
The Vanishing Rembrandts shows the sleuthing methods of these scientists and art historians. X-rays and laboratory examinations are bringing new evidence to the formerly subjective tradition of connoisseurship. By and large, what is revealed is not that there were conscious fakes or copies, but that many worthy and remarkable paintings were made by students of the master and misattributed in the 18th century.
Inevitably, the findings of the project are controversial, especially when the objects disputed are valued at millions of dollars and form part of a nation's cultural heritage and wealth. The film shares opinions of art dealers and collectors, academics and scientists, including Christopher Brown from the National Gallery, The Duke of Westminster, Professor Julius Held, and Walter Liedtke from New York's Metropolitan Museum.
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