Getty Passes on a Botticelli, Again


Speculation aside, it appears the Getty Museum did not bid on Sandro Botticelli's Young Man with a Roundel (about 1480), which Sotheby's auctioned this morning for $92,184,000. The winning bid was placed by Sotheby's Lilija Sitnika, who specializes in ultra-high-net-worth Russian clients. The underbidder is said to be an Asian collector, and those were the only two bidders.

In November Getty painting curator Davide Gasparatto posted the Botticelli to his Instagram account, sparking discussion with several noted museum people and connoisseurs. One asked the obvious question: "So will the Getty be the lucky purchaser?" Gasparatto had no comment. 

The Getty already had a history with the portrait. Up until 1982 the Botticelli was owned by the family of Oxford physicist Thomas Merton. The family wanted to sell but had been advised to wait until the J. Paul Getty estate was settled. That would surely bring a high bid from the wealthy but art-poor American museum. Getty curator Burton Fredericksen pitched Young Man with a Roundel to the trustees. "Unfortunately," Fredericksen wrote in his memoir Burdens of Wealth, "Everett Fahy, director of the Frick Collection in New York, felt the painting was by Francesco Botticini, a follower of Botticelli, rather than Botticelli himself. I was certain he was wrong, and [art historian Federico] Zeri agreed, though not very forcefully; [Getty advisor Otto] Wittmann had no opinion at all. Of course, [Getty Trust director Harold] Williams could not be expected to know the difference between Botticelli and Botticini, nor could he readily determine who was correct about the attribution, so… he rejected the proposal."

The night before the sale, Brian Sewell, a former Christie's adviser, did a TV interview in which he seconded the theory that it was Botticini too. Sewell was apparently aggrieved that he'd been passed over for a spot on Christie's board.

The Getty didn't bid, and the auction house sold the painting to New York real estate developer Sheldon Solow for a rock-bottom £810,000 (about $3.9 million in today's U.S. dollars). Fahy, who moved to the Met, later decided the portrait was by Botticelli after all. It was on loan to the Met, as a Botticelli, from 2013 to 2020. 

Merton's granddaughter Suzy Lewis told the Art Newspaper that the disappointing 1982 sale has cast a shadow on the the family's fortunes, even to this day. She says they have to "scrimp and save, with Airbnb."

Comments

Anonymous said…
Perhaps Getty is waiting for the Rembrandt
Anonymous said…
$92 million?! Am I reading that figure correctly?

Holy hell. No way would I ever describe that work as worth that much. It's an overly simple portrait and the face area somehow doesn't impress me all that much. At least not $92-million worth.

Only good thing about a Covid-19 economy is if it were to squeeze some of the excesses out of it. But $92 million for that work is like $800-plus million for Govan's/Zumthor's debacle.

The small Rembrandt (Abraham and the Angels) was withdrawn from the sale at the last minute. That often means the auction house has determined that no bidder is willing to meet the seller's reserve price.
Anonymous said…
$92 million in laundered money...

Now, this painting will vanish in the shady world of freeports.

The Getty cannot save every painting from oblivion. This one was not worth saving.
Anonymous said…
Getty spent $70M for the Titian. $92M seems about right today . But who knows how high the Chinese bidder was going to go. Or maybe the Getty still doesn't believe it's a Botticelli.
Anonymous said…
$92 million seems excessive for a middle-tier Botticelli (if that painting was actually done by him). There are higher quality works that can be bought for much less even if the artists don't have the same name recognition as Botticelli.
Anonymous said…
The Bernini the next day would have been a better buy, same with the Rembrandt. That Botticelli isn't in the same league as the Titian or the Pontormo. The Hugo van der Goes was better, which looked in need of conservation.

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