Spectacular news from The Hague: the Dutch state wants to purchase De Vaandeldrager (1636), an important self-portrait by Rembrandt. The Rijksmuseum has that on Wednesday afternoon with a press release announced.
De Vaandeldrager, on which the thirty-year-old Rembrandt portrayed himself in a historical costume, is one of the last masterpieces by the Dutch master in private possession. The museum has an option to buy and can take over the painting from the French banking family De Rothschild for 175 million euros.
The purchase will be a combination of public and private financing. The Rembrandt Association has pledged an amount of 15 million, the Rijksmuseum Fund 10 million. The remaining 150 million must come from the Dutch state, of which 19 million from the museum purchase fund.
To make the purchase possible, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) sent a proposal to the House of Representatives to amend the budget on Wednesday. Outgoing culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven (D66) says that her ministry wants to make work “accessible to everyone” again.
The Rijksmuseum has long been interested in the painting. Director Taco Dibbits says he has been working on it for five years. That started at the presentation of Marten & Oopjen, the wedding portraits painted by Rembrandt that the Dutch and French state jointly purchased in 2016 for 160 million from another branch of the De Rothschild family. Dibbits: „I then said to the family lawyer: ‘There is another painting that we would like to see here.’ Then he had to laugh.” Two years later, Dibbits got a call from the lawyer asking him to come by.
The current owners, the children of Élie Robert de Rothschild, who died in 2007, reported the intended sale to the Ministry of Culture in Paris in July 2018. They were accompanied by a lawyer from the Rijksmuseum. He then indicated that he would like to buy the painting.
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However, the Rijksmuseum had to be patient, because in April 2019 the French Ministry of Culture announced that it did not want to issue an export license for the painting. French museums were given thirty months to raise the purchase price. The deadline expired at the end of October and it turned out that no French museum was willing or able to pay the asking price.
The Standard Bearer (1636) by Rembrandt.
Dibbits: “At that time, the French state could still have declared the painting a national treasure and put the money on the table within four months. However, in close consultation with us, an export license was issued after all. That is the advantage of Marten & Oopjen: the parties involved now know each other, the lines are short.”
The De Rothschild family initially asked 165 million euros for the painting. Due to ‘price inflation’, says the Rijksmuseum, the price has risen by 10 million. Thanks to the good contacts, the parties were also able to reach an agreement directly. At Marten & Oopjen, the auction house Christie’s mediated in the transaction at the time, which cost an unknown amount of millions.
Bob Haboldt, an art dealer in old masters in Amsterdam, Paris and New York, speaks of “a bargain”. “This is a painting in the €250 million category. Important paintings by Gaugain, Cézanne and De Kooning have changed hands for that amount. This is an iconic painting by Rembrandt. If we were to print banknotes ourselves again, this portrait would lend itself better to that than Marten or Oopjen.”
De Vaandeldrager is inextricably linked to the history of the Netherlands. Standard bearers led the way in the Eighty Years’ War, which led to the birth of the Netherlands. In this large self-portrait, Rembrandt paints himself rebellious and full of bravado. It was his artistic breakthrough that would lead to the commission for De Nachtwacht.
If the acquisition is successful, De Vaandeldrager will tour the Netherlands and be shown to the public in all provinces. Eventually it will be given a place in the Hall of Fame of the Rijksmuseum. The museum owns 22 of Rembrandt’s 340 preserved paintings.
Director Dibbits realizes that the timing of the proposed purchase is bad: “This news comes in the middle of a pandemic, many people are having a hard time. But such an opportunity never presents itself again. Reminds me of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. It was in danger of being sold to a private individual in 1908. This could be prevented with the help of the Rembrandt Association and the state. And it has been hanging in the Hall of Fame ever since; you make such a purchase for eternity.”
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