Rembrandt had strong views about keeping gifts in their rightful place. When a lover chose to pawn jewellery the artist had given her he contrived to have her sent to an asylum.
So one can only imagine how he might have reacted to finding one of his most famous self-portraits removed from public display in a stately home, where it had been bequeathed to the nation, and instead exhibited in a private gallery. Yet that is the fate of Self-Portrait with Two Circles, which as part of a public-private arrangement is being lent to an exhibition at the Gagosian in London in exchange for having it reframed.
It is considered by many to be his definitive portrait. Sir Michael Palin, who lives near Kenwood House, the Hampstead mansion in northwest London where it has been hung for a century, called it “a wonderful painting. It’s one of the most striking Rembrandts anywhere.” He added that he was concerned about it being lent to a private gallery, although he conceded that the cost of maintaining it was substantial.
The deal by English Heritage is the first such loan in a new partnership that has raised concerns among some that national treasures could in effect be privatised. The art critic Roberta Smith said that the decision to move the old master was obscene.
The art historian Bendor Grosvenor said: “If English Heritage are to start effectively renting out the public’s masterpieces then they need to learn to price them properly. Gagosian has got by far the better end of the deal here.”
The loan is supported by the Friends of Kenwood as well as the Earl of Iveagh, whose great-grandfather donated Kenwood and its art collection to the nation. They argue that it will cover the £30,000 cost of restoring the frame and also present it to a new audience.
Anna Eavis, English Heritage’s curatorial director, said: “This partnership will raise much-needed funds for the conservation of Kenwood.” The painting is on display as part of the Gagosian’s Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now exhibition until May 18, after which it will return to Kenwood.