In 2016, he “came out” as the owner, just before lending some 30 works to the Louvre in Paris for the show “Masterpieces from the Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt.” Many of the same works later traveled to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2019 and were supplemented by paintings from the Louvre’s own collection for “Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age.”
The collection was scheduled to travel more, but when the pandemic hit, the paintings were put in storage, said Mr. Wheelock — until now.
Mr. Kaplan is confident that history painting is still very relevant. “That’s an angle that’s best test-driven in Amsterdam,” he added, because the public in the Dutch capital is already familiar with Rembrandt’s larger body of work.
If “Minerva” is the painting the collector considers his “Mona Lisa,” there’s another he once considered his “Moby Dick,” he said, “my great white whale.” As his handlers pressed him to stay on track for a scheduled lunch, Mr. Kaplan said, “Can I just show one more thing?” He led the way to the smallest painting in the exhibition, Rembrandt’s 1633 “Bust of a Bearded Old Man,” a miniature portrait, curiously contained in a velvet-covered traveling case.
The work once belonged to the American banker and U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon, who appreciated it so much that he wanted to be able to take it with him anywhere.
Mr. Kaplan had wanted to buy the portrait for years, from the moment he saw it on display in 2004, but he could not convince its former owner to part with it. He finally persuaded him by offering an extraordinary sum — a price Christie’s told him was the highest price ever paid for an artwork per square inch.
“It was worth it to me,” said Mr. Kaplan.
But what is the connection to history painting?
“That’s very personal,” he said. “When I look at it, I feel as if I’m gazing upon the face of God. If that’s not history, then what is?”