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Getty Museum Adds 2 Paintings by Rembrandt

TIMES ART WRITER

In a multimillion-dollar move that adds considerable luster to an increasingly valuable and critically esteemed art collection, the J. Paul Getty Museum announced Tuesday the purchase of two early paintings by Rembrandt.

“Abduction of Europa,” a mythological landscape painted in 1632, came from the estate of a New York collector, and “Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel,” a 1633 interpretation of an Old Testament story, was purchased through a London dealer. Both works were among a handful of the Dutch master’s paintings in private hands.

Experts estimate the combined value of the paintings at more than $30 million, although the Getty declined to reveal the amount paid.

“It’s a remarkable coup for the Getty to acquire these two paintings at the same time,” said Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, a leading Rembrandt scholar and a professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. “They are both excellent works. They are absolutely, certainly the work of the artist and they are in fine condition. . . . No other museum in the world could buy two paintings of this historical significance and monetary value.”

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The Getty Museum is one of eight programs endowed by the $4.1-billion J. Paul Getty Trust.

Getty Museum Director John Walsh, a specialist in Dutch art, called the acquisitions the Getty’s most important Dutch paintings and two of the greatest Old Master paintings in the United States. They will go on view at the Malibu museum Feb. 21.

The Getty’s acquisition was greeted as an exceedingly unusual event in the art world. Rembrandt paintings that are securely attributed solely to the artist, and not to his workshop, seldom come up for auction. As private supplies have dwindled, both public and private sales of Rembrandt works have become increasingly rare. The auction record for a Rembrandt painting was set in 1986 for “Girl Wearing Gold-Trimmed Cloak,” a 1632 work that was sold for $10.5 million at Sotheby’s London.

“Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel” was offered for sale at Christie’s London in 1992, but it was withdrawn by the seller when bids stopped at about $10 million. It was purchased by the Getty through the London firm of Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd.

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Announcing the acquisition of two Rembrandts at the same time was a coincidence, Walsh said. The Getty recently concluded negotiations to buy “Abduction of Europa” from the estate of New York collector L.H.P. Klotz, who had loaned the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during the 1980s.

“Daniel and Cyrus,” which came from British collector Lord St. Germans, was purchased in September, but the Getty delayed an announcement until British authorities granted the museum an export license, Walsh said.

“These paintings show the young genius of Rembrandt in two different aspects,” Walsh said. “They are two of his most successful storytelling pictures.”

Both works were created when the artist was in his late 20s, but the paintings’ divergent subjects and styles demonstrate the range of Rembrandt’s expressive talents, Walsh said.

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The larger of the two, “Abduction of Europa,” measures 24 1/2 inches by about 30 1/4 inches and portrays the myth of the founding of Europe. In a meticulously detailed scene, one of a very few landscapes by Rembrandt, the artist has interpreted a story from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” The painting depicts Jupiter, king of the gods, who has transformed himself into a white bull and enticed Europa, the princess of Tyre, to climb on his back. In the painting, Europa’s handmaidens watch in despair as the bull swims off with the princess on his back. According to the story, he transports her across the sea to a new continent that is named in her honor.

Although the young Rembrandt was in great demand as a portraitist when he painted “Europa,” he was eager to establish himself as a creator of important thematic works known as history paintings, Walsh noted. “ ‘Europa’ is a pretty important subject,” he said.

In contrast to “Europa’s” portrayal of a mythical adventure in a vast, theatrical outdoor setting, “Daniel and Cyrus” relates a biblical story in a dark interior. “It’s the tale of the wisdom of a young humble servant and the humbling of a mighty king,” Walsh said. “The irony is delicious.”

In the small (9 1/4 inch by 11 7/8 inch) work, Rembrandt picks up the Old Testament story at the moment when King Cyrus of Babylon asks his trusted Hebrew adviser Daniel why he does not honor the deity Bel, whose statue is in the background. According to the story, Daniel replies that he worships the living god, not an idol. Although Cyrus argues that the idol consumes offerings of food, the expressions of onlooking priests in the painting indicate that Daniel has made his point.

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The authorship of paintings attributed to Rembrandt is a question that continues to be hotly debated in the art world. Over the past three decades the Rembrandt Research Project, a committee established by the Dutch government, has led an extensive attempt to determine which works were painted by the master alone, which were started by him and completed by his workshop and which were done independently in his workshop.

Many paintings formerly attributed to the Dutch master have been downgraded in the process, but the Getty’s acquisitions have received the committee’s seal of approval, Rembrandt scholar Begemann said.

The Getty owns two other Rembrandt paintings, both portraits. One, painted in 1661, is a moody portrayal of St. Bartholomew. The other is “An Old Man in Military Costume,” created around 1630. The Getty also owns 11 drawings by Rembrandt.

The acquisitions also complement Rembrandt holdings in other local museums, including “The Raising of Lazarus,” a narrative painting by Rembrandt at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and several portraits at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Walsh said.

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