€150m Rembrandt pair (ctd.)

September 20 2015

Image of €150m Rembrandt pair (ctd.)

Picture: via Tribune de l'Art

There was a hoo ha in France earlier this year when the government granted an export licence for a pair of full length Rembrandt paintings being sold by a branch of the Rothschild family - but without giving any Frence museums a chance to buy them. Many said that although the price was high, there should have been at least an attempt to 'save' the pictures. Now, it seems the Louvre is working with the Rijksmuseum in order to share the cost, and rotate the paintings. It's a big ask. More here

Update - the Louvre part of the deal is apparently not a runner. The focus now is on the Dutch government and the Rijksmuseum buying them together. Already, the Dutch government has pledged EUR80m towards the EUR160m total. In terms of acquisitions, is that a record for a (modern) European government? More here.

Presumably, though, this still means that the pictures will leave France permanently. It may be felt there that as long as the pictures are going to a museum not far away from France, that's 'ok', or at least better than the pictures going to, say, the USA or even the Middle East. All of which raises interesting questions about the concept of 'saving' art for nations, and for the public.

In this case, there was an outcry in France about two paintings by a Dutchman which had not always been in France, and which were part of a private collection. So in what sense could they be deemed to be French national treasures, viewable by the public as if by right? The only criteria here was quality - the fact that two great paintings might somehow leave the country. In one regard, therefore, the idea of 'saving' a picture for one country, so that another country cannot have it, is little more than cultural protectionism, even nationalism.

I'm just thinking out loud here, and don't have all the answers by any means. Certainly, in other cases, like the Van Dyck self-portrait acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in London, the case for the picture remaining in Britain was easier to make. I did once discuss all this with one of the most senior judges in the UK, who I won't name, but who was of the opinion that one day somebody in Europe would seriously challenge controls on the movement of cultural objects imposed by individual EU states on the grounds that they ran counter to the EU-wide human right on the freedom to enjoy private property - and that they would win. Mind you, the legal bill would be enourmous, as you'd have to go all the way to the top European courts.

Update II - a reader writes:

Congratulations to the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre for their heroic attempts to acquire the Rothschild Rembrandts and keep them on public view.  A similar ‘Rembrandt crisis' will soon arise in the UK where the artist's sublime portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet is to be sold by Sotheby’s to a private owner for a reported £35m.  The portrait is widely recognised as one of Rembrandt's finest late portraits and was previously on public display at Penrhyn Castle in Wales.  The likelihood is that the portrait will be sold abroad with a short window of opportunity for a UK institution to match the agreed price.  Will our museum curators share the ambition of their European colleague and launch a bid to secure this fine portrait for the viewing public?

Update III - here's Marion Maneker of Art Market Monitor with a look at the wider ramifications of the EUR160m price tag. He says it's further proof we're not in bubble territory when it comes to art prices. 

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