There are many fascinating side-stories to The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan. This one began at the August 25, 1760 art auction in The Hague. My research of the auction records show there were seven Rembrandts in that auction—five were bought by the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky for his continued support of the collection of Frederick the Great. The other two Rembrandt portraits (The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan and The Gentleman with Tall Hat and Gloves) were bought by someone else (read the book.)
Gotzkowsky was buying wheat from the Russians to feed Frederick’s army and he paid for it with the art sales to Frederick. But this time things were different. Frederick’s war was over and the Russians occupied Berlin. The art dealer couldn’t pay the Russians for the wheat. He explained this to Catherine the Great and she took the 225 pieces of art from Gotzkowsky, paid the farmers, and in 1764 started The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
Then, in the 1930s, when Stalin sat on the throne, he needed money. He gathered up 21 pieces of art from the Hermitage and hired a dealer to sell them for the best price. They sold to Andrew Mellon. Included in the sale were the five Rembrandts Gotzkowsky had bought at the 1760 auction. Andrew Mellon donated the twenty-one paintings he purchased from the Hermitage to the United States Government in 1937. They became part of the nucleus of the new National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
In 1942 the five Rembrandts met again with the two they had left behind at The Hague auction. As followed in my historical novel, The Lady and The Gentleman took their own circuitous path via Russia to the collection of Joseph Widener of Philadelphia, whose huge collection was given to the NGA. I found that whole thing fascinating, especially when you detail the wild and unpredictable paths they each took from the 1760 auction to coming together again 182 years later in their new home in America.