Met buys rare Le Brun portrait from UK

May 18 2014

Image of Met buys rare Le Brun portrait from UK

Picture: Met/New York Times

The above portrait of Everhard Jabach and his Family by Charles Le Brun has been acquired by the Met in New York. The picture had been in an English private collection since the 18th Century, and was temporarily blocked from export by the UK government. However, no UK museum tried to raise the $12.3m required to match the Met's offer. 

The New York Times reports:

In February, after the museum had agreed to buy a rare 17th-century portrait by Le Brun, which had been in private hands in England since the late 18th century, the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest in England, issued a three-month export ban on the painting, “A Portrait of Everhard Jabach and Family,” to give British institutions time to match the $12.3 million price the Met had agreed to pay for it.

Arguing that it should stay in Britain, Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, wrote in a statement to the Export Reviewing Committee: “There are only a handful of paintings by Le Brun in British collections. All represent religious, historical or mythological subjects, and most are much influenced by Poussin’s style. None is a portrait.”

Luckily for the Met, no British institution tried to buy the painting, which is now being prepared for its journey to New York. “It’s a landmark in the history of French painting,” said Keith Christiansen, the chairman of the Met’s European paintings department.

Jabach is a great source of information on the painting technique of Van Dyck, to whom he sat twice. It's sad to see the painting go. I missed any announcement it was at risk of leaving.

Update - a reader writes:

This is the second time in recent months that the Trustees of the National Gallery have not moved to acquire major works subject to export licence deferral: and where, in both cases, the artist is not represented in their permanent collection .   First there was the Coello - which the Gallery made a bid for some years ago - and now this magnificent Le Brun.

And they could have bought both for less than the price of the Bellows. That painting, however fine, simply does not fit within the corpus on display - however hard they try - and falls outside their collecting range (by the time it was executed, Kandinsky was producing some of the first, truly abstract works). Indeed, it would have found a more appropriate home at Tate.

What the hell is going on?

Update II - another reader writes:

Your reader comments that the export of an important Le brun is the second recent occasion when the National Gallery failed to try to save a significan old master of a type poorly represented in British collections. I personally think the Bellows they bought is a fine painting, and if they could find ways to get another half a dozen 19th and early 20th century American works of similar quality (no easy task, but well chosen individual acquisitions are the way to get there) it would be a very real achievement. The harsh reality is that our museums and galleries have continually to make hard choices as collections build hundreds of years ago are sold off, almost always to foreign buyers. This has been happening for a century, and will stop only when there is nothing left to sell.

Isn't the real question why there are now so few Britsh collectors of note? That is why we see museums putting their collective finger in a dyke rather than the UK being part of an ebb and flow of great art. We have more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. More British people than ever before are visiting our great museums. Where have all the collectors gone? Are our bankers all philistines, or does modern British society somehow treat collectors less well than other countries?

Update III - a reader writes:

However regrettable its departure, one cannot gainsay the information provided on the Met’s website. And it’s not even on display yet.

Far, far better than anything the National Gallery has available. Perhaps they didn’t deserve it.

It's true that individual picture entries on the NG's site are rather thin. 

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