Surprise! Getty makes single most valuable acquisition

July 24 2017

Image of Surprise! Getty makes single most valuable acquisition

Picture: via New York Times

Amazing news that the Getty Museum has bought a collection of drawings and one painting from a single unnamed collector for sum believed to be in excess of $100m. The painting is Watteau's 'La Surprise' (above). The full list of drawings (here via the Getty's press release) is:

  • Study of a Mourning Woman, about 1500-05, by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Italian, 1475-1564)
  • The Head of a Young Boy Crowned with Laurel, about 1500-05, by Lorenzo di Credi (Italian, c. 1457-1537)
  • Heads of Two Dominican Friars, about 1511, by Fra Bartolommeo (Italian, 1472-1517)
  • Study for the Head of Saint Joseph, about 1526-27, Andrea del Sarto (Italian, 1486-1530)
  • Study for the Figure of Christ Carrying the Cross, about 1513-14, by Sebastiano del Piombo (c. 1485-1547)
  • The Head of a Young Man, about 1539-40, by Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, 1503-1540)
  • Head of a Youth, about 1530, by Domenico Beccafumi (Italian, 1484-1551)
  • Study for Saint Peter, about 1533, by Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (Italian, c. 1480-1540)
  • Head of Saint Joseph, about 1586, by Federico Barocci (Italian, c. 1535-1612)
  • The Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban, about 1609-13, by Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)
  • Panoramic View of Dordrecht and the River Maas, about 1645-52, by Aelbert Cuyp (Dutch, 1620-1692)
  • Punchinello Riding a Camel at the Head of a Caravan, late 1790s, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727-1804)
  • The Eagle Hunter, about 1812-20, by Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828)
  • The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host, 1836, by John Martin (British, 1789-1854)
  • Two Studies of Dancers, about 1873, by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
  • After the Bath (Woman Drying Herself), about 1886, by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)

The full price has not been made public, but since most of the works have been bought publicly by the same collector at auction within the last fifteen years or so, the Getty's director, Timothy Potts was able to tell reporters such as the New York Times' Jori Finkel that the deal was:

“the Getty’s biggest in terms of financial value.”

I think this story tells us three things. First, the Getty endowment is huge; it must the only institution in the world with this sort of financial fire-power, and able to buy on this scale without government help. Second, the old cliché that museum quality Old Masters never come onto the market anymore is just not true. Finally, whoever put this collection together bought some fantastic works - and apparently there may be more to come, reports the New York Times:

Mr. Potts said he knew the British seller from his previous job leading the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, and began discussions two years ago. His curators ultimately had the chance, he said, “to choose from well over 100 works, predominantly drawings,” with future acquisitions still possible.

Who is the mystery collector? I have no idea - but (and please forgive the speculation) we know the Watteau was bought at Christie's in 2008 by the dealer Luca Baroni, on behalf of a collector. Lately, a number of other works bought by Baroni, also on behalf of a collector, have been reappearing at auction, including a Tiepolo 'Flora' sold at Sotheby's earlier this month, and Flinck sold at Christie's in New York. I don't know why this collector (if it is the same person) might be selling their collection, but it's an interesting test of the market that all these works are coming back up for sale so soon (in Old Master terms) after they were first bought. So far, it all seems to be going reasonably well for the collector; remember that art is usually a bad short-term investment, as you need to be sure that works increase in value by at least the combined buying and selling commissions (usually about a quarter to a third of the overall cost) before you get your money back. 

Update - Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper names the collector as Luca Padulli. More here

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.