The Hague (AFP) - The Netherlands and France will jointly buy two rare Rembrandts for 160 million euros, the Dutch culture minister said Wednesday after the two states defused a potential bidding war.
The 17th-century paintings, which currently belong to the wealthy French Rothschild banking family and have rarely been seen in public, will alternate between the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre, Jet Bussemaker said in a letter to the Dutch parliament.
"We believe these two rare portraits should always be allowed to be admired together, alternately between the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre, so they are accessible to the broader public, both young and old," she said, adding that the deal was cemented by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Francois Hollande at the United Nations this week.
"A few months ago it still seemed unthinkable," Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes told Dutch radio. "But now two beautiful portraits will be together in the public domain, in two museums of world fame."
Wrangling over the two full-length portraits of a young couple painted by the Dutch master around their wedding in 1634 had threatened to sour relations between the two European allies.
Bussemaker on Friday said the Dutch government was willing to stump up half the 160 million euro ($180 million) price tag, with the remaining 80 million euros to be found by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
But her French counterpart Fleur Pellerin had said the day before that Paris had submitted an offer to acquire one of the portraits for the Louvre, and that the paintings would alternate between the two museums.
After "intensive" discussions with Paris over the last few days, the Dutch cabinet decided to agree with France to share the costs "given our combined interests", Bussemaker said.
Details of the agreement -- including insurance and responsibility for restoration -- still need to be worked out, Bussemaker said.
- Rarely displayed -
The affluent Amsterdam couple Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit commissioned Rembrandt to paint the highly detailed separate portraits on the occasion of their wedding, and the two paintings have always been treated as a single unit, media reports said.
Dressed fashionably in black, Soolmans is depicted holding a glove in his left hand, while Coppit holds an ostrich feather fan and wears a four-row pearl necklace as well as other fine jewellery.
The artnet website said the canvases have been viewed publicly only once in the past 150 years, and Bussemaker has already stressed the importance of finally putting them on public display.
According to the Dutch daily paper NRC, the paintings were reportedly sold to the Rothschilds in 1877 for 1.5 million guilders, despite attempts by the Dutch government at the time to keep them in The Netherlands.
The Rothschild family first indicated it wanted to sell the paintings in 2013, NRC added.
- 'Pair of shoes' -
The Rijksmuseum's Pijbes said it was a new concept "in the museum world for two countries to work together to obtain works from a private collection."
He said each country would own half of each of the two paintings, which were "like a pair of shoes, never to be separated".
French Minister Pellerin and Bussemaker in a separate statement issued in Paris also welcomed the deal.
The solution "meets the common cultural and political objective" the countries set for themselves, namely "to keep the paintings on European soil and show them to a large audience."
Louvre president Jean-Luc Martinez called the agreement an "innovative solution" with a "happy outcome that will allow the two masterpieces be seen in public in two major European museums."