Louvre unveils rare Rembrandts

The paintings at the Louvre museum in Paris are Rembrandt's only known full-length portraits.
The paintings at the Louvre museum in Paris are Rembrandt's only known full-length portraits. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • French banking tycoon Eric de Rothschild was happy to see two paintings by Dutch master Rembrandt, owned by his family for generations, finally on display at the Louvre museum on Thursday.

"They look great here, much better now they've had a bit of a clean - I think the last one was in 1957!" he said as he viewed the paintings with French President Francois Hollande and King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands during a visit by the Dutch royal couple.

France and the Netherlands announced last September that they had jointly bought the two rare works from the Rothschild family for €160 million (S$245.7 million).

The purchase is France's biggest art acquisition. It ended a year-long tussle that started after the Dutch offered to purchase and repatriate both masterpieces. France initially said it could not afford them, before teaming up for a joint purchase with the Netherlands.

The Louvre carried out limited work with a product called "fake saliva" on the paintings to restore some of their lustre before they went on display, said French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay.

The paintings had a bumpy ride before arriving at the Louvre. Mr Rothschild first offered them to the French museum, which waited a year before refusing to buy them, allowing the banker to look for a buyer outside France. Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum stepped in, but then France said it realised it did not want to lose the two works.

"The paintings were expensive and we didn't know at first that this joint purchase was a possibility. It was difficult, but we've made it here," Ms Azoulay said.

The paintings are exceptional as they are Rembrandt's only known full-length portraits. Most of the Dutch master's work are in museums, rather than in private hands.

The Louvre bought the woman's portrait and the Rijksmuseum purchased the man's, Ms Azoulay said.

The portraits date back to 1634 and depict Amsterdam trader Maerten Soolmans and his wife Oopjen Coppit. They were painted by the Dutch master for the couple's wedding and are considered defining examples of his work.They will spend five and then eight years by turns in each museum. Initially, they will remain for three months at the Louvre before being presented at the Rijksmuseum for three months. They will then be treated to a full restoration.

"This type of full-body portrait did not exist in Holland in the 17th century," said Mr Sebastien Allard, director of paintings at the Louvre. "They are among the most valuable paintings of the era."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Louvre unveils rare Rembrandts'. Print Edition | Subscribe