One of the few portraits by Rembrandt left in private hands is likely to be purchased by the Rijksmuseum with assistance from the Dutch government. The total price of the painting is €175 million ($198 million), with the Rembrandt Association contributing €15 million and the Rijksmuseum Fund providing €10 million. The Dutch Government is set to pay the remaining €150 million, although final approvement from parliament is yet to be granted.
The painting is considered to be a self-portrait and is titled The Standard Bearer. Rembrandt painted it at the age of 30 in 1636, and it shows the artist in the beautifully rendered historical costume of a standard-bearer. Standard-bearers were hugely important individuals who had the dangerous task of riding out into battle ahead of the troops wearing bright clothing and waving flags. In a statement, the Rijksmuseum suggested the national importance of this subject: “The Standard Bearer is one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces and is inextricably linked to the history of the Netherlands. Standard-bearers were positioned in the front line of battle in the Eighty Years’ War, the War of Independence which led to the birth of the Netherlands in 1648.”
The portrait appears to be Rembrandt’s way of demonstrating his skills in the hope to secure a commission to paint a portrait for the Amsterdam civic guard, an extremely significant commission for any artist at the time. Rembrandt’s ambitions came to fruition six years after this portrait was executed when he was commissioned to paint his famous The Night Watch (1642), a group portrait of the Amsterdam militia. Director of the Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits, said the painting was of “enormous importance” and that it shows Rembrandt’s “artistic breakthrough in the run-up to The Night Watch”.
The painting has been in the collection of Elie de Rothschild in Paris, and was classified as a “national treasure” by the French government in 2019, who refused to grant an export license for the painting, giving French museums 30 months to raise funds to purchase it. However last week the French government waived its rights to buy the painting after being unable to raise enough money. The considerable amount needed to purchase the painting “represented almost 20 years of the Louvre’s acquisition budget”, and there were no other French institutions who could buy the painting. Prior to being in the collection of the Rothschild family, the portrait was owned by King George IV of England.
Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven has expressed her excitement at the upcoming purchase, evidently optimistic that the final approval for the purchase will come through. She said “after hundreds of years, the work will now be in public hands, so everyone can enjoy this painting of enormous cultural and historical significance. After a journey of centuries, The Standard Bearer is now returning home for good.” Similarly, Fusien Bijl de Vroe, Director of the Rembrandt Association, commented that: “a purchase like this is important both today and for generations to come.”
The Rijksmuseum intend to tour the portrait around the Netherlands, before displaying it permanently in the museum.