A digital Rembrandt museum with all his paintings. The sale of 8,000 NFTs from The night watch must enable the construction of the ‘metamuseum’. That is the plan of the Rembrandt Heritage Foundation. This foundation, founded in Amsterdam, will soon start selling digital certificates of ownership of small pieces of the famous Citizen Guard piece.
The site for the digital museum under construction, metarembrandt.com, says it is a tribute to Ernst van de Wetering, the art historian who died last year and was associated with the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) for 46 years. Through his work for this research group, which examined all paintings attributed to Rembrandt for authenticity, Van de Wetering became the international Rembrandt authority. With the digital museum, his legacy will be preserved for the future, the site states.
Also read Ernst van de Wetering’s obituary: A Rembrandt was only a Rembrandt when he said so
Edzard Gelderman is chairman of the Rembrandt Heritage Foundation. For his company TCR Holding, in 2006 the art historian put together an exhibition of full-size reproductions of all Rembrandt paintings recognized by his research group. From 2006 to 2019, this exhibition attracted many hundreds of thousands of visitors in Amsterdam, Japan and New Zealand. Because of the high start-up costs, the exhibition was not a financial success, says Gelderman. “Rembrandt has turned out to be an expensive hobby.”
The entrepreneur wanted to “do something with legacy from Van de Wetering,” he says. “His beautiful exhibition was in a cupboard. What else could we do with it?” The idea for a digital museum was born with a Rotterdam company specializing in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. But such a virtual museum also costs a lot, says Gelderman: “Game studios can handle it , but then you quickly talk about a few hundred thousand euros.”
The Night Watch clip
The NFTs must bring in the necessary funds. A reconstruction made by Van de Wetering of the original version of The night watch – in 1715 pieces were cut on all sides of the canvas that were lost – has been digitally cut up into 8,000 pieces of almost 25 square centimeters. These fragments, placed under a virtual glass bell, will be offered for sale within a few weeks. The price of the NFTs has not yet been determined, Gelderman says, but will be between 0.1 and 0.15 ethereum (164 to 246 euros).
Buyers cannot select Captain Frans Banninck Cocq’s eye or any other recognizable part of the painting. The NFTs will be allocated randomly. According to the website, the buyers are “the founders and treasurers, the Night Watchmen, of the MetaRembrandt Museum.” Your NFT will soon give access to the digital museum. Buyers can also rent out their certificate to other museum visitors.
With the advent of NFTs last year, a new parallel artistic universe seemed to have emerged; on the art market, prices for the new medium rose in record time. But just as quickly, interest declined again at the end of last year. When asked if his foundation isn’t too late with the Rembrandt NFTs, Gelderman says, “The big frenzy has really died down. We’ll see.”
TCR Holding has already incurred significant costs for establishing and promoting the project. If all 8,000 NFTs are sold, the company will receive an amount between 1.3 and 2 million euros. If sales unexpectedly disappoint, Gelderman says, the investment costs will be covered first, and the foundation will use the remaining amount to build a simplified version of the museum. Gelderman: “There are all sorts of degrees of how beautiful such a museum can be.”
Carin van Nes, Van de Wetering’s partner, agreed with the plan, she says. “Ernst really wanted his Rembrandt project with a digital museum to be made available to the whole world. He was always eager to share his knowledge.”
The night watch is owned by the municipality of Amsterdam and is on permanent loan in the Rijksmuseum. The museum is neither enthusiastic nor cheerful about the move, according to a written response from a spokesperson. “The Ryksmuseum’s collection is for everyone. We have an open data policy for non-copyrighted images, which means that anyone can use the (copyright-free) images.”
Correction (11 August 2022): An earlier version of this article stated that the canvas was cut into 2.5 centimeter pieces. These are parts of 25 centimeters. It is fixed above.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on 11 August 2022