Art Fund statement on Rembrandt’s Catrina

  • 27 October 2015

A planned Art Fund campaign to save Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1607 – 1685), from leaving Britain has been called off following information that the application for an export licence is set to be withdrawn.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1607-1685), 1657 © Private collection. Image: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford. Photo: David Gowers

The painting, which has been in Britain for over 250 years and is considered one of Rembrandt's greatest late masterpieces, was provisionally sold by the trustees of the Penrhyn settled estates in North Wales to an overseas buyer for £35m.

On 16 October culture minister, Ed Vaizey, announced that he had placed a temporary ban on the export of the portrait until February 2016 in order to enable a UK buyer to try to raise the necessary funds to 'save it for the nation'.

The Art Fund had planned to raise the required price, c £22.5m (net of tax), to acquire the 17th-century masterpiece, and then to donate it to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales where its availability to the British public would be guaranteed. It would also have been offered on loan to a range of other institutions across the Welsh nation and beyond.

Significant funds from charitable sources had already been raised since the 16 October announcement, and the Art Fund itself was pledging £1m.

Despite these rapid collaborative efforts, on 23 October the vendors’ agent informed the Art Fund of their intention to withdraw from the export review process and to proceed regardless with the private sale.

The Art Fund is delighted its campaign has been successful in preventing this important work of art from immediately leaving the country and would welcome any forthcoming news that it may be placed on loan to a museum and made accessible to the British public. However, it believes this is likely only a temporary reprieve from its export at a future date.

This opportunity to secure Rembrandt’s magnificent painting for the nation – forever, and at a greatly reduced price – has not been possible and may now never be achievable, as the c £12m tax concession will not apply to a future sale. The Art Fund sees it as a huge cultural loss to both the people of Wales and the wider UK.

This case clearly highlights a pressing need for major improvements to the systems and procedures that are intended to protect our nation’s treasures.