Friday, July 21, 2017

The Getty's Big Buy

The Getty Museum has purchased 16 major European drawings and a Watteau painting (The Surprise) from an unnamed and clearly discerning British collector [Getty press release, L.A. Times, New York Times]. The artists represented include Michelangelo, del Sarto, Parmigianino, Rubens, Goya, and Degas. In the NYT Jori Finkel guesstimates the total outlay at over $100 million. Timothy Potts described the purchase as "the Getty's biggest in terms of financial value… There hasn't been an opportunity like this in 30 years of the Getty's existence and there won't be again."
Unlike the Getty's manuscripts and photographs, the drawing collection has mostly been assembled sheet by sheet. Nine of the 16 drawings are of the Italian Renaissance, starting with a Study of a Mourning Woman (1500-1505) by Michelangelo. This is the drawing that was discovered in a book at Castle Howard and auctioned in 2001. It joins a later drawing by the artist, purchased with great fanfare in 1993. That was described as the museum's first Michelangelo, and I didn't expect there to be a second.
Lorenzo di Credi's Head of a Young Boy Crowned with Laurel Leaves was singled out by Berenson as the artist's best drawing. It's a well-preserved cartoon corresponding to a figure in the Uffizi's Adoration of the Shepherds.
Other Renaissance drawings are by Fra Bartolommeo (above, Head of Two Dominican Friars, c. 1511), Andrea del Sarto (below, Head of St. Joseph, 1526-1527), Sebastiano del Piombo, and Domenico Beccafumi.

The Getty just bought a Parmigianino painting, and here's another great late work by the artist. Head of a Young Man (1539-1540) is hauntingly symmetrical, save for the eyes turned heavenward and left.
Rubens’ Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban is an oil sketch on paper. Made in Rome, it may be connected to the state funeral of the Kongolese ambassador, an event that triggered interest in African culture. The sitter is probably Moorish, and Rubens executed the likeness on account paper.

Ironically the most expensive painting J. Paul Getty ever bought was an oil sketch of heads of an African man, then attributed to Rubens (no longer!) The new African Man Wearing a Turban is a bridge between the museum's Rubens drawings and its oil sketches on panel; not to mention a bridge between North and South, West and East. Another Rubens drawing in the Getty collection is notable as an early depiction of a Korean.
The one Dutch drawing in the set is Aelbert Cuyp's Panoramic View of Dordrecht and the River Maas, c. 1650, measuring about 6-1/4 by 20 inches. It is loosely related to a Cuyp painting in the Getty collection, and more directly to a painting at LACMA. The latter is the left portion of a panoramic painting that was cut in two. The right part is in Leipzig. The drawing supplied the background for both.
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, son of the more famous Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, is most admired for a set of over a hundred drawings of Punchinello, the Universal Buffoon. The Getty bought one of these prized sheets in 1984, and the new drawing is even more amusing. It finds Punchinello Riding a Camel at the Head of a Caravan (late 1790s).
The Eagle Hunter (1812-1820), from Album F of Goya's private sketches, exemplifies the artist's bitter humor. It shows a man rappelling down a cliff to collect eggs from an eagle's nest. A subversion of the Ganymede myth, it epitomizes Goya's thesis that we're screwed no matter what.
Poor John Martin—"Mad Martin," they called him. He wasn't insane, just a certifiable Romantic. Martin is about the least famous of the artists in the Getty purchase. The Destruction of the Pharaoh's Host (1836) ranks with his best works in watercolor, a cherry sun on top of a roiling sea.
There are two works by Degas, one of ballerinas and the other of a bather. After the Bath (c. 1886) is a major pastel distinguished by colorful planes and street-art-scribble wallpaper. The two acquisitions boost the Getty's multi-media sample of Degas' achievement.
The one oil painting is Watteau's The Surprise. Documented by a print, but only recently located, it was auctioned for $24 million in 2008. At the time kibitzers wondered why the Getty didn't buy it. It was once owned by Nicholas Henin, a friend of Watteau's who also owned Perfect Accord at LACMA. The two are almost the same size but weren't intended as pendants, as the LACMA picture's figures are larger and more downstage. Watteau based the embracing couple at left on a pair in Rubens' The Kermesse.

The Surprise joins the Getty's large Italian Comedians, purchased in 2012. Whether the latter was by Watteau's hand was already a controversy in the 18th century. As far as I can tell, not much has been settled since then. The Surprise, then, gives the Getty an unquestioned Watteau to anchor its superlative collection of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, sculptures, and drawings.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you know which four got denied an export license?

Zack said...

Amazing! The Watteau is a dream.

William Poundstone said...

None of the drawings have been denied an export license, but 3 (NYT) or 4 (LAT) may require one. The Watteau painting doesn't need a license, says LAT. I believe the Michelangelo drawing is OK too as it was approved for export after NG Scotland couldn't raise the money to buy it in 2001.