Old Masters

France Takes a Pass on the Rothschild Rembrandt “Standard Bearer”

The most significant Rembrandt still in private hands was priced at €165 million, now it can be sold

That state of France has given up. The minister of culture announced that the French state would not try to acquire the Rothschild Rembrandt painting, “Le Porte-étandard” painted in 1636 but acquired by James de Rothschild in 1840. The heirs of Élie de Rothschild, who died in 2007, decided to sell the painting two years ago triggering the French state’s opportunity to deny the work an export license and give the state the chance to acquire the work. 

The heirs are seeking €165 million for the painting, perhaps the greatest work by Rembrandt still in private hands. Sixyears ago, another branch of the Rothschild family sold their pair of Rembrandt portraits for €160 million in an unusual deal that involved the Louvre and Holland’s Rijksmuseum splitting the cost and custody of the works. 

French law allows the state 30 months from the denial of an export license to decide whether it will acquire the work for its national museums. In this particular case, the French may have done the Rothschild’s a favor. As the global pandemic approaches its two-year anniversary, monetary and fiscal policy around the world has favored the very rich. According to one estimate, global billionaires—the sort of person likely to spend €165 million on a Rembrandt—saw their wealth increase by 62% during the pandemic. 

With the path cleared for the Rembrandt painting to be sold, the only question remains is whether the heirs will try to broker a private sale or bring the work to auction. With the strong state of the auction market this Autumn, there must be the temptation to sell the work publicly. 

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