Fathers and Sons

My Rembrandt (Oeke Hoogendijk, 2019)

Rembrandt Let the Little Children Come to MeThere’s a telling moment early on in this documentary, when Jan Six discusses Rembrandt‘s portraits of his son Titus over the years: I’ll do it for you Dad, but on my own terms.

(I paraphrase.)

Jan Six has issues with his own father, Jan Six, who is — some technical legal agreements with the Netherlands or Amsterdam notwithstanding — the current custodian of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jan Six.

You read that right.

Jan Six XI is an art dealer, Jan Six X lives in the family mansion on the Amstel and the original Jan Six was a magistrate, mayor and general bigwig in seventeenth century Amsterdam. Six XI turned to studying art and had worked at Sotheby’s, before setting up as a dealer in Amsterdam, immersing himself in all things Rembrandt.

Clearly a possessor of the Lovejoy magic sense, two paintings stood out from auction catalogues — Let the Little Children Come to Me and Portrait of a Young Gentleman — as being legit Rembrandt and if only he can prove this is the case and buy the painting without anyone twigging he can stand on his own two feet rather than just being descended from ten Sixes.

There were two problems — the first is that authentification is a notoriously tough and Rembrandts have been upgraded or downgraded over the years. Professor Ernst van de Wetering is the man he wanted to convince for Portrait. (Let seems to be skipped over and was going to need four years of cleaning by Martin Bijl until things might be settled — the film seems to skip over this canvas being x-rayed) Van de Wetering is unconvinced at first — so Six moves to the Rijksmuseum to try and convince a younger generation of experts.

When the decision is finally made and the painting launched in a fanfare of publicity (orchestrated by his editor, Ronit Palache, also his girlfriend, although this is not clear in the documentary), another dealer, Sander Bijl, claims that he had also seen the painting and that he and Six had agreed to buy the picture together. Sander is the son of …  Martin, who has been restoring the other picture. Did he leak the news to his son? Or did van de Wetering let things slip? Or has Six been a little too keen?

This story is told alongside that of several other paintings — the Duke of Buccleuch’s Old Woman Reading, two full length portraits of Martin Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit owned by the Rothschilds and the collection of entrepreneur Thomas Kaplan.

These stories are interesting, but less involved. The affable Duke wants advice from someone at the Rijksmuseum — who presumably would happily inherit the painting — over a rehang and his relationship with the painting feels natural. Éric de Rothschild is selling his painting, along with his brother Robert’s, because the latter has a tax bill and he wants the paintings to stay together. He sets a price and the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum are both interested — the Amsterdam gallery seems close to rasing the money when the French threaten to block the paintings’ export. Thus a joint agreement has to be reached, to head off an international incident. And finally Kaplan starts collecting paintings, despite saying he never would, with the intention of lending them to exhibitions, making the private public again (although few of these paintings had ever been public). We see him travelling to exhibitions at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi and The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Splendidly, the documentary does put the paintings at the heart of the imagery, although it skips over some of the technical aspects of the process of attribution. And I do want to know the end of Six’s story.

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