Facilitated through Christie’s Private Sales channel, the first ever joint acquisition of two exceptional Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) masterpieces by the French and Dutch states was concluded on 1 February, with the portraits being bought for €160 million — €80 million each, and thus becoming the most expensive Old Master paintings in history.
The portraits of Maerten Soolmans and his wife Oopjen Coppit were executed in 1634, a year after the couple’s wedding. It was announced by the two countries that the pair will be always shown together, alternately at the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum, but will be owned separately due to French acquisition laws.
Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Portrait of Maerten Soolmans, 1634. Overall canvas size: 209.5 x 135.5 cm. Sight size: 207.5 x 132 cm.
Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Portrait of Oopjen Coppit, 1634. Overall canvas size: 210 x 134.5 cm. Sight size: 207.5 x 132 cm.
They are due to be exhibited publicly for the first time in 60 years at the Louvre in Paris in a few weeks’ time. The joint acquisition of the portraits by the two nations for allocation to the museums, in a deal negotiated by Christie’s, is the first of its kind.
The portraits entered the prestigious Rothschild collection in 1878 and were last exhibited publicly in 1956, in the Netherlands. As a result, they are the least known masterpieces in Rembrandt’s oeuvre.
‘These two great Rembrandt van Rijn portraits will now take their place among the greatest works of art, in the heart of Europe, to be appreciated for many generations to come’
‘To have played our part in this historic sale of these magnificent masterpieces from such a prestigious private collection is a fitting start to this 250th anniversary year for Christie’s,’ said Patricia Barbizet, the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
‘It is a testament to the vision shown by the French Republic, the Louvre, the State of the Netherlands and the Rijksmuseum that these two great Rembrandt van Rijn portraits will now take their place among the greatest works of art in the heart of Europe, to be appreciated for many generations to come.’
In 1634, the year Rembrandt completed the portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, he was, at the age of only 28, the most fashionable portrait painter in Amsterdam. In the first decades of the 17th century, Holland, the small Republic which was born out of the secession from its Spanish Catholic rulers, experienced a period of unparalleled prosperity, becoming one of the main economic centres of the Western world.
In a climate of religious tolerance and intellectual freedom, art, literature and science flourished. Emerging from this transformation, a new class of wealthy and affluent citizenry was eager to have its likeness — adorned with the trappings of success — recorded in paint for posterity.
Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Portrait of Maerten Soolmans (detail), 1634. Overall canvas size: 209.5 x 135.5 cm. Sight size: 207.5 x 132 cm.
Born to a well-to-do Calvinist family who had fled from Antwerp to Amsterdam during the wars of religion, Maerten Soolmans (1613-1641) became acquainted with Rembrandt during his stay in Leiden from 1628 to 1633. Furthermore, the names of Soolmans and Rembrandt appear on a document, dated 24 March 1631, found in the archive of a Leiden-based solicitor, Caerl Outerman, who himself was the proud owner of a painting by Rembrandt.
Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Portrait of Oopjen Coppit (detail), 1634. Overall canvas size: 210 x 134.5 cm. Sight size: 207.5 x 132 cm.
Maerten Soolmans married Oopjen Coppit (1611-1689) in 1633. Two years his elder, she was the orphan daughter of an old and respected Amsterdam family whose circle also included patrons of the young Rembrandt. It proved a glittering match for Soolmans, since his wife not only brought him the prestige of her ancestry, but also a colossal dowry of 35,000 guilders. This fortune easily provided the newlyweds with the necessary funds to pay for this grand commission, estimated to have cost 500 guilders for each canvas, a substantial sum at the time.
The couple had their first child in 1633, and marked this happy event with a further purchase from Rembrandt, this time an image of domestic felicity, The Holy Family, dating from 1634. Today, the painting is part of the collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Rembrandt’s portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit are among the grandest he ever painted — lasting tributes to the status of his sitters and the importance of their patronage to the young artist.
The previous record price for an Old Master painting was set at auction in 2002 when The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens was bought for £49.5 million.
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