The Dutch government is to help acquire two rare Rembrandt paintings for 160 million euros ($179 million) from a private collector and bring them back to the Netherlands, officials said Monday.
Culture Minister Jet Bussemaker told national radio hopes were high that a deal between the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the current owners of the two portraits by the Dutch master was nearing completion.
The full-length portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, painted just before their marriage in 1634, have been in the French branch of the wealthy banking Rothschild family since the mid-19th century and have rarely been seen in public.
They are now believed to be held in the collection of Eric de Rothschild.
"It is of utmost important to us that the paintings, which are now in private hands, should come under public ownership so that they are accessible to the public and remain in Europe," Bussemaker told Dutch radio.
"Art belongs to us all collectively," she said, adding it "would be highly undesirable" if the paintings were sold "to some rich oil nation".
The government has agreed to fund half of the purchase price, Bussemaker's chief press secretary Job Slok confirmed to AFP.
The rest of the funds, 80 million euros, will have to be raised by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which houses a large collection of Dutch art through the centuries, including many Rembrandts.
"This is a once-in-a-liftime opportunity to get the paintings back to Holland and show them off to the Dutch public," Slok said.