UK’s Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, has placed a temporary export ban on a Rembrandt portrait worth £35 million ($54 million).
The ban was announced in a news release published on the Government’s website gov.uk, with an uncharacteristically alarming opening sentence that read: “One of Rembrandt’s greatest late portraits is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £35 million.”
The painting, titled Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1657), has been in the UK for more than two centuries, during which it has been on display at the National Museum of Wales and the Ashmolean Museum. It was originally bought in 1860 for the National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle in North Wales.
The Culture Minister then took to Twitter to share the announcement with his 29,100 followers:
“This Rembrandt painting has been enjoyed by the UK public for more than 250 years and provides a fascinating glimpse into history, helping us to better understand how society and art have evolved over the centuries,” Vaizey is quoted in the release, and on Twitter. “It’s important that paintings, especially one as famous as this, are available for our students to learn from. I hope that the temporary export bar I have put in place will result in a UK buyer coming forward to buy the Rembrandt painting to save it for the nation.”
Vaizey took the decision to place the ban following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), which is administered by Arts Council England.
“This is an exceptional portrait of a fascinating sitter, about whom there is still much to be discovered,” RCEWA’s Aidan Weston-Lewis said in the statement. “Its departure abroad would be particularly unfortunate in view of its long presence in the UK, notably in Wales, which currently has no publicly-owned painting by Rembrandt.”
The sitter, Catrina Hooghsaet, was a wealthy Amsterdam Mennonite who was married but had separated from her husband by the time she posed for the Dutch master. In Rembrandt’s painting, as if to assert her strong character and independence, she is not accompanied by her estranged husband, but by her pet parrot instead, who in fact featured in her will.
The painting, which is to be offered at a sale conducted by Sotheby’s according to artnet News contributor Colin Gleadell at the Telegraph, was acquired in 1860 by the 1st Baron Penrhyn and passed down through the Douglas-Pennant family, who hung it at Penrhyn Castle. In 1951, the Castle and some of its contents were transferred to the safekeeping of the National Trust after the death of the 4th Baron Penrhyn. The value of the contents was exempted from inheritance tax on the condition that the public had access to them. The Douglas-Pennant family later sold a masterpiece by Jan Steen for £8.2 million to the Rijksmuseum, and in 2007, Gleadell reports, the Rijksmuseum was interested in the Rembrandt and raised £26.4 million to acquire it, but the Penrhyn Settled Estate didn’t accept the price.
The ban will be active until February 15, 2016, but it could be extended until October 16, 2016 if “a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the painting is made at the recommended price of £35,000,000 (plus VAT of £660,000).” The statement said that offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price would also be considered by Vaizey.
According to the Guardian, the masterpiece has been described by Christopher Brown, former director of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, as “one of the greatest Old Master paintings in the country and one of the finest portraits ever made by Rembrandt”.
The work could be seen last year in the “Rembrandt: The Late Works” exhibition at London’s National Gallery, which then toured to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Veizey’s prompt action to place an export ban marks a stark contrast to France’s tardiness to react against the prospective loss of two Rembrandt portraits, owned by Eric de Rothschild and worth €150 million (€180 million).
After failing to declare the paintings National Heritage and granting de Rothschild an export permit in March of this year, which caused a huge national outrage, France has recently announced that it is prepared to pay up to €80 million ($89.5 million) to keep at least one of these two exceptional Rembrandt paintings in the country.