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Dutch State’s Purchase of Rembrandt Comes Under Suspicion Due to Ties to Tax Havens

Officials of the Dutch government raised concerns over the state’s recently-approved plan to purchase a Rembrandt masterpiece worth $198 million from the Rothschild family.

The Dutch senate is set to put €150 million ($170 million) toward the purchase of The Standard Bearer (1636). A plan to buy the painting was proposed by the Rijkmuseum to the Dutch government in early December. To complete the purchase, the remaining €25 million ($28.4 million) sum will be provided by the Rembrandt Association and the Rijksmuseum.

The painting is held under a trust located in the South Pacific Cook Islands, which are known as a hub for untaxed assets. Its holding company is located in another tax haven in the Caribbean, in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. One official, Dutch senator Henk Otten, questioned the deal, pointing to the state’s policies that hit constituents with tax fines. He asked: “How does this transaction relate to the policy of the Dutch government to combat tax avoidance?”

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Painting of an array of heads

The painting, which depicts the 30-year-old artist in historical garb, is one of the last masterpieces by Rembrandt still in private hands. It was loaned to the Rijksmuseum in 2019 for an exhibition dedicated to the Dutch master and Velazquez.

Some officials also criticized the timing of the purchase, as the country’s cultural sector continues to reel from the pandemic and as ongoing Covid-related restrictions continue to keep museums shuttered. Still, Gunay Uslu, the newly appointment Dutch state secretary for culture and media, defended the means of the purchase, describing it as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to take the painting out of private hands.”

The painting has been held by the mega-collecting Rothschild family since 1844. Prior to being bought by the Rothschilds, it belonged to King of England. The French government had tried to buy the painting after declaring it a “national treasure,” a legal measure that bars a cultural asset from being exported from the country for 30 months. No French institutions raised enough funding for the acquisition by the December 2021 deadline, allowing the Dutch state to compete for it.

The painting will go on tour to institutions in the Netherlands after a period of four weeks in which the purchase will be finalized. It will then go to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it is set to be displayed in the museum’s Gallery of Honor.

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