On 10 March 2016, the French President M François Hollande was surrounded by Dutch Royalty and dignitaries at the Louvre. Around the President were King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. The reason for their presence at the Louvre? The display of two paintings by Rembrandt, a portrait of Maerten Soolmans and that of his wife Oopjen Coppit.
The first of these was acquired by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (which has in its collection the famous “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt). The second will be added to the collection at the Louvre, thanks to the sponsorship of the Bank of France. Henceforth, the paintings will always be displayed together — the couple will therefore not be separated – either at the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum. Visitors at the Parisian museum can now admire the two masterpieces for three months (Denon Wing, 1st Floor, Room 13) before they are taken to the Netherlands. Thereafter, the paintings will be displayed alternately for longer intervals (5 years and then 8 years). Rembrandt’s masterpieces, the portraits of Maerten Soolmans and his wife Oopjen Coppit, painted in 1634, are being displayed for the first time at the Louvre from 10 March to 13 June 2016.
The history of these portraits is worth a look. Rembrandt painted them in 1634, a year after the wedding of Maertens Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. The couple, belonging to the upper middle class of Antwerp, asked Rembrandt to paint full-length portraits of them, a privilege previously reserved only for dignitaries of the country. These paintings were brought to France in 1877 when Baron Gustave de Rothschild and a consortium of buyers could acquire them from the sale of the Van Loon collection. Since then, these portraits have never left France and even less their Parisian residence Only once were they taken away from the Louvre in 1956 for an exhibition.
Coming back to 2013: Eric de Rothschild decided to separate these two iconic paintings as his heirs were not interested in them. He then contacted the Louvre and offered a price of 160 million euros, a sum far beyond the museum’s annual acquisitions budget amounting to 8 million euros. However, negotiations for the acquisition began.
Curiously, that same year, an export licence that allows the seller to contact foreign buyers was granted by France. As a consequence, a controversy broke out as to if France should let these extraordinary paintings to leave its domain. In Amsterdam, the directors of the Rijksmuseum did not want to let go of this opportunity and suggested that they are ready to get them and willing to campaign to raise funds. Finally, a solution was found at the French side when the Bank of France agreed to pay 80 million euros (as patrons) for the purchase of the portrait of Oopjen Coppit. The Rijksmuseum put on the table an equivalent sum to acquire the husband’s portrait.
While M Hollande, accompanied by the French Minister of Culture and Communication Audrey Azoulay was admiring the two portraits, especially that of the beautiful Oopjen Coppit whom her husband addressed as ‘my Mona Lisa’, it was also learnt that another Rembrandt masterpiece ‘ The Unconscious Patient (Sense of Smell)’ belonging to a series of five paintings by the artist on the theme of ‘sense’ which was deemed to have been ‘lost’, would be displayed by the TEFAF, an ancient art fair held annually in Maastricht, Holland. This small format painting belonged to an American collector who ignored that it was the work of Rembrandt. An American foundation acquired the painting in 2015 for the sum of $ 1 million.
This “discovery” was made just at the right moment. In 2011 a late portrait of Rembrandt was displayed in a gallery there for its proposed sale for $ 47 million. It did not find a buyer. The same picture was sold a year earlier for $ 20 million. Its owner, a Las Vegas casino boss, hoped to make a good bargain by doubling its price in just twelve months. He tried to play for high stakes! He lost.