A near divorce and uneasy marriage

The two of them nearly caused a major diplomatic row. By now, a kind of “entente cordiale” has been reached, though relations are still cool. The lovebirds will remain together – though they belong to different countries.

Their current, or perhaps already ex-owner, will become two times eighty million Euro richer. For we’re not talking about the real Maerten Soolmans (Martin) and his beloved Oopjen Coppit (little Ophira or Opal?). No, the real Maerten and Oopjen became engaged and decided to get their portraits painted to commemorate their marriage.

The wealthy Amsterdam couple ordered their portraits from a then up-and-coming, fashionable Amsterdam artist. The three of them can never have imagined, these two portraits would cause a major row between two museums and two countries. Nor can the fashionable painter ever have imagined, his two paintings would fetch a record 80 million Euros each!

For the fashionable painter was a guy called Rembrandt. He painted Maerten and Oopjen in 1634. A year after he had finished his more famous painting, now nicknamed “The Nightwatch”. Rembrandt would go bankrupt later – and die destitute.

Maerten and his Oopjen married, but he died a few years later and left her a widow. She remarried a captain called Daij, who also left her a widow.The portraits of Oopjen and Maerten were mistakenly presumed to be portraits of Oopjen and her second husband.

The portraits seem to have been once owned by the van Loon family, whose canal house is now a museum and can still be visited in Amsterdam. During the 19th century, the Rothschild family acquired the pendant paintings. The troubles started, when a Rothschild family member offered both paintings for sale, but preferred them to remain together.

First, he offered the portraits to the Louvre, in negotiations which started earlier this year and certainly should have remained top-secret. Things did not go according to plan, for one Didier Rykner of Tribune De L’Artt, broke the story.

The Louvre in Paris could not cough up a trifle like the 160 million Euro the owner wanted. So the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was offered both portraits next. The museum very, very much wanted both and started not only to pull political strings, but also some kind of crowdfunding (apparently approaching wealthy Dutch citizens, the “Vereniging Rembrandt” and other organisations).

After a few months, the owner became impatient, both museums wanted both paintings – but each museum could only cough up part of the total sum. It seemed Maerten and his Oopjen, whose portraits are now dubbed by some to be “the Nightwatches among marriage portraits“, were facing a divorce – or at least some kind of separation.

One can imagine the tantrums, swoons, apoplexies among museum directors and staff in both countries, not to mention emotions running high among politicians, art historians, prospective dealers and similar enthusiasts. The thug-of-war between on the one side France, its Louvre, its bankers and backers, and on the other side the Netherlands, its Rijksmuseum, its backers and bankers – erupted in the papers and spilled over into all other media.

In the end, after the brawl, the row, the ruffled feathers – all sides settled for an uneasy marriage. The loverbirds’ portraits will not be separated. Despite one country owning Maerten and another one possessing Oopjen, these portraits will be exhibited together. As the painter and two lovers always intended. However, the deal between the new owners means, Rembrandt’s two portraits will rotate between two museums and two countries.

In case you now want to rush off to either the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum to goggle at two portraits costing 80 million Euro each … The Dutch parties which coughed up enough money to buy one portrait, have stated both portraits will go on a display-trip through their home-country. The reason given is, that at least one painting is now national property and the public is entitled to have a look at what it owns. The more likely reason probably being, that after such a public fray, some presume people are more willing to part with ticket-money to goggle at the pendant portraits – thus funding a part-recovery of this costly deal.

In case you think Rembrandt, Maerten, and Oopjen would be disgusted by all this … Remember that all three lived in a highly commercial town in the highly commercial Dutch Golden Age. Maerten and Oopjen belonged to families who were already wealthy (notice for instance her costly Ostrich feather, lace, pearls, etc). These Amsterdam merchant families were not averse to raking in heaps of money. And Rembrandt – ah, as an up-and-coming artist, he might not have minded mega-publicity and a tour of his paintings.

More interesting: will all the travelling to and fro and roundabout be feasible? After all: both portraits are over 2 meters high and over 1 m wide – and several centuries old. Then there is the fact both paintings are worth 160 million Euro. Insurances and security will be major headaches for museums and their transport firms.

For another take on the sale and deal: Art History News’s post dated 30th of September 2015.
For a visit to both museums:
The Louvre Museum, Paris
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


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