AMSTERDAM • Before roughly 26,000 visitors were admitted into the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam this past weekend to view two Rembrandt portraits heralded as new national treasures, their former owner, Mr Eric de Rothschild, had a moment alone with his two old friends, the newlyweds Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit.
"I was delighted to see them again," said Mr de Rothschild, a French businessman who, until March, had the portraits in his Paris home, one on each side of his bed. "At home, they were part of the environment and they rarely showed all their importance. They were now all of a sudden more official. At home, they were very much at ease. Now, they were dressed up more in their evening clothes. They were on their best behaviour."
Until now, he has never spoken publicly about the sale of the paintings last year to the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre for €160 million (S$240 million), in an unusual joint purchase that was arranged between the Dutch and French governments.
He said in an interview last week in Amsterdam that the impetus to sell had come from his brother Robert, who wanted to settle a tax bill incurred from passing assets to his son.
"I didn't want to separate the pictures or to sell either one," Mr de Rothschild said. "For art historical reasons, they were a pair, and they should remain a pair. Therefore, I accepted to sell mine with his."
The brothers inherited the Rembrandts from their father Alain de Rothschild when he died in 1982, though the works have been in the family since 1878.
When he obtained an export permit from the Ministry of Culture in March last year to try to sell the works abroad, he was criticised by French art news media for wanting to take the works out of the country. He said he was pleased that, in the end, the paintings will be shared between two of the world's greatest art museums.
"They came back to their country of origin, and they were also able to stay in the country which their owners had always lived," he said, referring to the Netherlands and France. "So it was, to a certain extent, a rather ideal situation." The portraits will be on view at the Rijksmuseum until Oct 2.
NEW YORK TIMES