Jan Six XI had a small errand to run recently. He and his father, Jan Six X, collected a portrait of Jan Six I, their direct ancestor, from the Dutch royal residence in The Hague and delivered it to the nearby Mauritshuis Museum. The painting just happened to be a Rembrandt; priceless, it is considered the artist’s most valuable work still in private hands.
No big deal, says the 29-year-old. Stop in, chat with Queen Beatrix, who’d borrowed the picture from the Sixes, pop it into a van and drive 10 minutes. No flashing lights, no security detail—just the van, the moving men and Dad. “That’s the only way to do it,” he says. “Otherwise you call too much attention to yourself.”
“It’s quite abnormal for a modern person to live with a Rembrandt in their living room.”
Six is perfectly at ease around the type of art most people wouldn’t dare touch. His childhood home, a 58-room palazzo on the Amstel River in Amsterdam, contained works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Frans Hals, as well as Dutch Golden Age furniture and an archive of family history dating to approximately 1023. He is heir to one of the last great European family art legacies, known today as the Six Collection. He is also head of the Old Masters department for Sotheby’s in Amsterdam, routinely selling works of art that are nowhere near as valuable as what his family owns.
Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jan Six (1654), which depicts the 17th-century merchant and Amsterdam mayor who founded the family collection, is the most significant item in that trove. One Old Master dealer has valued it at $150 million, a figure Six dismisses as far too low. Making its first public appearance since it was completed three and a half centuries ago, the painting is on display through January 13 at the Mauritshuis as part of the exhibition “Dutch Portraits—The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals.”
The Sixes have kept the collection private for 10 generations. For the past two years, however, they’ve been renovating their Amsterdam palazzo, and at Six’s urging they’ve allowed the work to travel a little. The Mauritshuis’s director, F.J. Duparc, has described the work as “the most beautiful [portrait] in the entire world.” Peter van der Ploeg, the museum’s chief curator, adds that “what’s fascinating is that it’s still in the same family it was painted for. It gives it an extra feeling of being an authentic portrait.”
Jan Six X, 60, whose full name is Jan Six van Hillegom and who owns a graphic design and publishing company, is currently in charge of the Six Collection. He’s always been exceedingly private about the family holdings and doesn’t grant interviews to the press. He has, however, brought the collection into the 21st century by creating an archive of digital photographs documenting the more than 100,000 items and self-publishing a book on his family history called The House of Six.