Monday, January 04, 2021

My Rembrandt

It is sort of like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, with Really, Really Good Taste. There are not a lot of Rembrandt paintings in private hands, because they are rarely brought to market. It is harder still to “discover” a previously unattributed Rembrandt, but maybe not impossible. Viewers meet several private owners and prospective buyers in Oeke Hoogendijk’s My Rembrandt, which releases this Wednesday via Film Forum’s virtual cinema.

In Scotland, the 10
th Duke of Buccleuch owns a Rembrandt that is truly magnificent. He would never want to sell Old Woman Reading, and given his family’s extensive land holdings, they probably will never need to. On the other hand, thanks to France’s high rate of taxation, Baron Eric de Rothschild agrees to sell his twin portraits, Marten and Oopjen, igniting a politically fraught contest between the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre.

Meanwhile, Jan Six XI, whose father Jan Six X still proudly owns Rembrandt’s portrait of the original Jan Six, believes he has discovered a previously unattributed Rembrandt, which he purchased in Christie’s auction for a mere 100K Euros and change. Eijk and Rose-Marie de Mol Van Otterloo are seriously considering purchasing it, but questions about Six’s business dealings will cloud the sale. So far, philanthropist Thomas S. Kaplan has not had such problems acquiring his fifteen Rembrandt, each of which he maintains in public exhibition.

My Rembrandt
starts out as a meditative film about what his paintings mean to the blessed few fortunate to own one, but it suddenly takes on unexpected intrigue when Six’s ex-partner starts making allegations in the media. There is also a great deal of bureaucratic infighting, when the French Minister of Culture bullies the Louvre into contesting the Rijksmuseum’s plan to acquire both Marten and Oopjen, free and clear. Hoogendijk’s last documentary was The New Rijksmuseum, an epic four-chronicle of the museum’s restoration, so it is not surprising her sympathies lie in Amsterdam. Frankly, it is hard to root for the French, when they seem more interested in political CYA-ing than the great art they suddenly decide must stay in France.

The late shift in tone definitely keeps
My Rembrandt interesting. Arguably, Kaplan is the real hero of the film, because he has made some amazing art available for the general public to enjoy again. Political junkies might be surprised to see Gen. David Patraeus turn up at one of his museum openings, but they co-founded a training program for intelligence officers at Harvard. He sounds rather interesting, in ways outside of Hoogendijk’s scope. Regardless, in many ways Old Woman Reading serves as the film’s touchstone image, but she seems so at-home in the Duke’s estate, it is hard to begrudge his ownership.

My Rembrandt
is certainly an aspirational film. It might be dashed difficult, but owning a Rembrandt is not completely impossible. It also guarantees Christies will do a lot more due diligence the next time a “School of Rembrandt” painting passes through its hands.  Recommended for anyone intrigued by the museum world and rarified art collecting, My Rembrandt opens virtually this Wednesday (1/6), in conjunction with Film Forum in New York.