Rembrandt's Lucretia was lost almost as soon as it had been painted. It was not listed in the inventory of the paintings remaining in his house at his death. Whoever purchased the painting – whether he commissioned it or bought after it had been completed– has vanished into history, and with him Lucretia disappeared for a century and a half of unknown adventures. It is probable that the painting was purchased by Duke Michal Radziwill of Lithuania in the late 18th or early 19th century. The Duke was the voivode (governor) of Vilnius and an extremely wealthy man who dedicated himself to the collection of masterworks of artists from all across Europe. In addition to paintings, he also purchased prints, etchings, porcelains, furniture, and other decorative art. Lucretia would have been an excellent representative for Rembrandt in the Duke's Dutch collection. Alas, the great art collection he had curated so carefully was not appreciated by his heirs. His grandson, Zygmunt Radziwill, was careless with money, and soon ran the estate to ruin. Between the years of 1850 and 1879, all of the best pieces in his grandfather's collection were sent off to Paris to be auctioned.
Lucretia would have surely been amongst this collection; indeed, it appears to have been one of the first paintings Zygmunt sent away. In 1853, an Englishman named John Calvert Wombwell purchased the painting via Christie's. He was proud of his new acquisition, and displayed it prominently in his home. He was happy to show it to visitors; the early art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen greatly admired the painting. However, it did not remain with the Wombwell family for long. In 1862, the painting was once again sold by Christie's to another Englishman, William W. Burdon of Newcastle. Burdon knew of the Radziwill connection, and when he later decided to sell the painting he made sure to publicize it. It is unknown exactly when Lucretia was sold once more, but it returned to London in the company of J. Purvis Carter, an expert in paintings. Mr. Carter had published several treatises, in both English and French, on art; it may have been that Lucretia was featured in one or more of these works. Mr. Carter also owned property in Florence, Italy and it is likely that he brought the painting with him to his home at the Villa Torrigiani sometime after 1877.
The painting had traveled all across Europe. It had been displayed in fine palaces like Nieborów, home of Duke Radziwill, and in the collections of genteel country Englishmen. Yet in the Villa Torrigiani, Lucretia lay forgotten. Perhaps the painting was kept in a dark room at the back of the house; perhaps it was never hung on a wall. When a catalog of all known paintings of Rembrandt's was assembled by Emile Michel in 1903, Lucretia is not mentioned at all. But at some point, J. Purvis Carter or one of his descendents must have found the painting, dusted it off, and decided that the time had come to sell Lucretia once again. The chaos of World War I may have dealt the family a financial blow that could not be overcome without liquidating some of their finest paintings. Like many refugees of the war, Lucretia found itself crossing the Atlantic Ocean by boat to travel to America, where the wealthy were happy to buy up the masterpieces of Europe.
By the mid-1920s, the painting had come to Henry Reinhardt & Sons, Inc. This New York City art dealer quickly found a home for their prized Rembrandt; it was sold to Herschel V. Jones, publisher of the Minneapolis Journal. The reporter-turned-publisher had been collecting art his entire life; only a few years before he had anonymously donated over five thousand prints to the fledgling Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. Lucretia, however, was always intended to be one of the showcase pieces of his home. Sadly, Mr. Jones died in 1928, so he did not have much time with his new Rembrandt. Over the next few years, the painting remained in the possession of his widow, Lydia Wilcom Jones.
Perhaps Lucretia reminded the widow of her husband, and the memories were too painful; alternatively, Ms. Jonesmay have sought to honor her beloved Herschel in a manner he would have loved. In 1934, she sold his painting to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. William Hood Dunwoody, one of the museum founders and a major philanthropist (in his will, he designated funds to found the Dunwoody College of Technology), had created a fund to help purchase prominent pieces for the museum. This money was used to purchase Lucretia for the museum, and over the years it brought fame and prestige to the Institute of Arts as it traveled across the United States with museum exhibitions. But the wandering life of a gypsy wasn't good for the painting, so after 1969 Lucretia was stayed at home. But the beautiful painting was allowed one last journey in 1991, when it traveled to Washington DC to be reunited with a sister painting, another Lucretia painted by Rembrandt in 1664. As the two paintings stared at each other from across the gallery – one showing Lucretia holding her dagger out theatrically in the moments before her suicide, the other showing a subdued woman struggling to hold herself upright as her blood spilled from her wound – viewers must have been amazed at the beauty and the drama revealed for the first time in nearly three and a half centuries.