Penrhyn Rembrandt goes on public display

April 5 2016

Image of Penrhyn Rembrandt goes on public display

Picture: TAN/Media Wales

Rembrandt's portrait of Catrina Hoogshaet has gone on display at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. We must hope the superhumanly strong curator charged with holding the picture up is given the odd day off.

The £35m picture was recently caught up on a hoo ha over the UK's export licensing rules, after the new owner withdrew an export application. The Art Fund had declared that it would try and buy the picture (at a tax reduced price of £22.5m), and the new owner decided they'd rather keep it. The picture must now stay in the UK for at least ten years before a new application can be made, so it's good to see it going on public display. The National Museum of Wales has a free Rembrandt, at least for the time being.

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper highlights the fact that in 2025 the picture might be more expensive should a new attempt be made to acquire the picture for the nation, not least because the tax advantages would not apply. He also adds:

The loan of the painting to an important museum could also add to its financial value.

I don't think that's true, however. We're not dealing here with a newly discovered Rembrandt of questionable status, which might benefit from a period of institutional endorsement in the eyes of future buyers. This is a well known painting, which has already been on public display for many years (albeit in a National Trust house). The idea of museums adding value to pictures is widespread, but (at least in the Old Master sector) it's a chicken and egg question: is a picture chosen for display by a museum because it is already museum quality, or does museum display make it museum quality? Almost all of the time, curators and museum directors chose pictures for display because they deem them to be museum quality.

Anyway, I recently wrote a piece for Apollo Magazine on whether the UK's export licensing rules need changing. I argued 'no' and Prof. Christopher Brown, former director of the Ashmolean Museum, argued 'yes'. Though I was amused to see that in the end we largely agree with each other.

Update - the Rembrandt news is not featured on the National Museum of Wales' website. The press release is included (unillistrated) on the Museum's press page. But it's amazing how often museums can't get their press office and website people to work together. Surely the site should have the Rembrandt news on the front page, with details about the painting and how anyone who has read the news story can now come and see the painting themselves.

Update II - a reader writes:

Your highlighting the abject failure of National Museum Wales to promote adequately the new display of Rembrandt’s Catrina Hooghsaet at the museum is sadly charateristic of a general failing of most art museums in Britain other than the London nationals, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam and a handful of others. Indeed the appalling quality of most regional museums’ websites is a disgrace. At a time when they are desperate for more funds and more visitors it is surely inexcusable for so many of them to ignore the power of the internet to advertise their collections. Just two examples (but it’s not difficult to find others) - the Higgins in Bedford and Nottingham Museum at Nottingham Castle say nothing on their websites – not a single word – about their collections, and yet they both have some wonderful works of art. Amazingly, the Museums Association, which is so keen on ‘access’ seems to have no interest in this issue at all.

Another reader adds:

Perhaps the NMGW website (never much good at the best of times) failed to be updated due to the recent strike action??

Update III - a curator writes:

The Rembrandt from Penrhyn was on loan to the Ashmolean Museum from January 2014 until it was transferred to the National Gallery for their exhibition 'Rembrandt: The Late Works' in autumn that year. It had previously been on loan to the National Museum of Wales in 2009-10. So, it is certainly not unknown to the general public. Unfortunately, this does not make it a better picture - the current valuation is grotesque, and it is difficult to understand why, apart from sentimentality, it can be considered part of our national heritage. There are much more important paintings by Rembrandt in private collections in the UK.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.