France Makes Bid to Buy Rembrandt Portrait


Rembrandt’s portrait of Marten Soolmans

AMSTERDAM — The French Culture Ministry has made a bid to purchase one of a highly coveted pair of Rembrandt portraits from Éric de Rothschild, offering 80 million euros, or about $90 million, for one of them.

The bid comes only three days after the Dutch government on Monday officially pledged €80 million to the effort to acquire both portraits from the French businessman for the Rijksmuseum here, for a total price of €160 million, tasking the museum with raising the other half.

In a statement released on Thursday, Fleur Pellerin, the French culture minister, described the move “as part of joint efforts by France and the Netherlands” to acquire the two works, one for the Louvre in Paris and one for the Rijksmuseum. She said funds would come from the “exceptional patronage of the Bank of France,” the country’s central bank.

Alexander Pechtold, who has led the effort to secure the paintings here and is a Dutch parliamentary leader with D66, one of the country’s progressive political parties, said that the Rijksmuseum already has an initial sales contract with Mr. de Rothschild for both portraits.

“I’m still confident that we’re heading in the right direction,” Mr. Pechtold said in a phone interview. “The seller wants to keep them together and made an arrangement with the Rijksmuseum, so that’s the phase we’re in now.”

The rare set of full-length portraits depict the newlyweds Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. In the Netherlands, they are often referred to as “the brother and sister” of “The Night Watch,” Rembrandt’s 1642 large-scale masterpiece, which is a Dutch national icon.

“We are following the developments with interest,” said Taco Dibbits, director of collections for the Rijksmuseum, in a text message.

The pledges from the two governments could lead to a situation in which the portraits are sold separately, one going to the Rijksmuseum and the other most likely ending up in the Louvre. However, it is unclear whether Mr. de Rothschild is willing to separate the pair. His assistant, reached in Paris, said the owner would not comment at this time.

Mr. Pechtold said he hoped neither of the works would remain in France. “It’s Dutch heritage,” he said. “It’s nice to see Rembrandts all over the world, but I prefer them in the Netherlands.”


By Nina Siegal