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Self-portrait
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This little painting went to market, this little painting went to town… and this little painting went “wee wee wee” all the way into the darkness in a speedboat.

That’s right, this Rembrandt took a little joyride when eight art thieves removed it from the National Museum in Stockholm in December of 2000. Rembrant painted Self Portrait when he was 24 years old, and in it he gave himself a rather disapproving, serious look. Imagine that face judging you as you carried this painting (along with two Renoirs) out to your speedboat, and disappeared into the night. Yikes.

At just about 6 by 4.5 inches, painted on copper, this piece would have been easy to snatch and run - except that (oh yeah) it was in a guarded museum. How do you address such an obstacle? An action movie-worthy plan, of course! Two cars nearby exploded as a distraction while three armed men rushed in to the museum and grabbed the three paintings; on the way out they put spikes onto the road to slow down the police; they then sped off in their boat (the museum is on a waterway - how lucky). With that, 30 million dollars worth of art disappeared, and the robbery went into history as one of the top 10 art heists ever. It wasn’t until 2005 that the thieves slipped up and tried to sell the painting in Copenhagen - they were hoping for just $200,000.

To continue the Hollywood-ready plot: the painting was returned to the museum the day before a new exhibition opened: "The Dutch Golden Age - Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Their Contemporaries.” Self Portrait had miraculously made it back in time to take its place in the show.

Rembrandt had a flair for the dramatic, and certainly would like the intensity of this story (and no doubt would be relieved to know that his likeness returned safely to its home.) He lived richly, despite not having enough money to actually sustain this lifestyle without debt. He wooed women (including one, Saskia van Uylenburgh, who he would marry the year after making this painting). Rembrandt never left The Netherlands in his lifetime, but his many self-portraits (almost 100) have traveled widely, giving the artist some posthumous adventures. Most of those, of course, were legal travels, not forced removals, as in the case of this 1630 work.

Luckily, Self Portrait has remained safely out of the hands of other art thieves for the past decade-plus. Now, instead of staring at its kidnapper with that look of judgement, it can stare down visitors to the museum. Perhaps those that look closely enough (or have vivid imaginations) will be able to see a twinkle in this Rembrant’s eye, or a tiny curl of his lips, at the memory of his five-year globe-trotting adventure.

Sources

Sources

  1. AFP. “Rembrandt on View as Suspects Held in Sweden.” The Local, 22 September 2005, accessed 8 June 2019, https://www.thelocal.se/20050922/2137.
  2. Layton, Julia and Matt Cunningham. “10 Impressive Art Heists.” howstuffworks.com, accessed 8 June 2019, https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/artwork/art-heist2.htm.
  3. Liedtke, Walter. “Rembrandt (1606–1669): Paintings.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2005, accessed 8 June 2019, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rmbt/hd_rmbt.htm.
  4. Oteri, Danielle. “The 5 Most Famous Museum Heists.” tripsavvy, 30 June 2017, accessed 8 June 2019, https://www.tripsavvy.com/famous-museum-heists-4126231.
  5. “Rembrandt van Rijn: Biography and Chronology.” Rembrandtpainting.net, accessed 8 June 2019, http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rembrandt_life_and_work.htm.
  6. “Self Portrait.” National Museum, accessed June 8, 2019, http://collection.nationalmuseum.se/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInte....
  7. “Stockholm Art Thieves Jailed.” BBC News, 28 July 2001, accessed June 8, 2019, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1460493.stm.
  8. “Stolen Rembrandt Work Recovered.” BBC News, 19 September 2005, accessed 8 June 2019, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4252568.stm.