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2019-06-doc4 The Night Watch in the Dutch courts?

Yesterday, Thursday 27 June 2019, ‘Operation Night Watch’ kicked off in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. The painting will undergo a major cleaning-up and restoration. It’s last restauration was over 40 years ago, following an attack on the painting with a knife in 1975. During the Rijksmuseum’s continued monitoring program, it has been discovered that parts the Night Watch have changed over the years. The kick-off yesterday launches, open for the public, a thorough examination process to gain a better understanding of the condition of the painting and develop a the best possible treatment plan.

Although an interested bystander can visualise the the active group of persons under the command of Frans Banninck Coq depicted in the Night Watch, it is only known since 2009 that in all there are 34 people. Whilst the painting dates of 1642, only around 1653 an ornamental frame (or cartouche) was added to the painting with the names of the persons who had paid for their portait. All eighteen musketeers, including captain Frans Banning Cocq (lord of Purmerlant and Ilpendam) and lieutenant Willem van Ruijtenburch (lord of Vlaerdingen), have been listed on the cartouche, not, for example from left to right, rather according to the length of their engagement to the Civic guard (‘schutterij’) of District II of Amsterdam at that time. The painting measures 379,5 x 453,5 cm, but originally it was larger. The current painting is a shortened version of the original Night Watch. Where is that huge painting painted? Would there have been any space in what now is the Rembrandthouse. Rembrandt acquired his new house in 1639 and inhabitated the ‘… house opposite of the new Anthonis Sluys’, some five minutes walk away from the Kloveniersdoelen. This was the building for which the Night Watch was made. He probably painted the enormous canvas in a small galary or a shed in the courtyard of his house, in ‘… the Galerijtgen’. If this is correct, I am just curious whether, technically, it still can be determined.

Payments to Rembrandt

Rembrandt did not make the work for free. Over fifteen years after the delivery of the paining, in 1659, two musketeers have stated that sixteen of them each paid Rembrandt about one hundred guilders, one more than the other, depending on whether he was more or less prominently visible. They declared so at the request of Louis Crayers, a lawyer in his capacity as guardian or Rembrandt’s son Titus van Rhijn. The depositions given indicate that Titus’ guardian, apparently considered the amount due and owing to Rembrandt on the day of Saskia’s death, 14 June 1642. In his function as guardian of Titus it was important to establish the value of Rembrandt and Saskia’s estate at the time of her death. This reference time was indicative as Titus had a substantial stake in his mothers’ inheritance.

In 2019: a fake Night Watch in the Dutch courts

In March 2019, the Arnhem-Leeuwarden Court of Appeal decided in a dispute about a copy of the Night Watch. Appelant is the widow of an artist, who had nade a copy of the Night Watch by Rembrandt, based on the work that Rembrandt originally painted. As the sides and top had been partially removed over time, the copy is larger than the work exhibited in the Rijksmuseum. The copy has been exhibited since 1992 at Expo Madrid in Dalfsen. Jan van der Horst worked on it for five years. Amounts have been paid to the maker since 1992, a total of 96,000 guilders up to 2006. At the time of the artist’s death, Expo Madrid exhibited twenty-three of his paintings. These paintings were handed over to appellant after his death, with the exception of the copy of the Night Watch and a few other works after. Expo Madrid believes that it is the owner of these works, but the widow is demanding the release of these paintings and a prohibition on revelation and reproduction of the copy of the Night Watch. It forms the basis for her claims that she is the owner and joint creator of the copy.

The Court of Appeal rejects the claims. It considers that the intention was to make a true-to-life copy of the Night Watch. For the missing pieces, a photograph was used of the copy of the original composition of the Night Watch. The Court notes that the widow has not brought any images or pictures on which the work was based and therefore the court cannot compare the copy and the original: ‘The court cannot therefore determine whether the maker has given the Night Watch its own interpretation of the dog (tail between the legs or upwards), the red spots and the dark balls at the shooters, the old orange or the plug of paper, the name in the chasuble and the legs of some figures.’ The Court continues to consider that no evidence has been presented to substantiat that a faithful as possible copy as possible of the original Night Watch in its original dimensions was made. The artist signed his copy of the original Night Watch ‘… with his own name and replaced the eye of one of the figures with his own eye. The mere replacement of the name in this context does not demonstrate (free) creativity. Replacing an eye is apparently meant to adjust the color of an eye. However, the court of appeal cannot determine the visual impact of this change on the entire work, but it can be assumed that it is of insufficient importance to be able to speak of an own personal stamp of the artist’.

In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, an agreement concluded between the parties also gives no reason for restitution of the copy of the Night Watch and the other paintings. Leaving the question about ownership aside here, Dalfsen seems still the place to go to see the copy.