Getty, Portrait Gallery Strike Deal on "Omai"

Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Mai (Omai), about 1776. Image courtesy of the owner

The Getty and Britain's National Portrait Gallery have announced a deal to jointly acquire and exhibit Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Mai (Omai). Each institution will contribute half the £50 million ($60 million) price. The seller is billionaire Irish horse breeder John Magnier. 

As a painting invoking themes of colonialism and the representation of persons of color, Portrait of Mai is of the moment in ways that few British Grand Manner portraits are. The press release states that Portrait of Mai "is widely regarded as the finest portrait" by Reynolds. That contemporary opinion has been amply reflected in the price, unprecedented for a Reynolds.

Mai (about 1751-1779) was a man from Ra'iatea (near Tahiti) who traveled to London with Captain Cook's expedition and became a celebrity. His name was misunderstood as Omai (the "o" means "from"). The Getty/UK press release indicates the painting will be known as the Portrait of Mai (Omai). The two institutions will show it sequentially and equally. "If the National Portrait Gallery is successful in the final phase of its fundraising campaign," it will be shown in London after the NPG reopens in June 2023. It is then to be "displayed in the Getty Museum when Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympic Games."


Well, our long international nightmare is over.
I suppose paying only half the cost for a fine, albeit grossly overpriced, portrait is better that paying the full monty.
Can you say airline miles?
Anonymous said…
Gotta be kidding me. To display this every 6 years is the equivalent of a long term loan for $30M. Plus more for the huge expense of shipping this back and forth twice a decade.

Maybe the Getty is throwing them a bone knowing they're not going to raise the funds. Or maybe there's another export license they want in the future and hope UK funds are eaten up by this purchase?
That's not how Brits roll.
Anonymous said…
Not a fan of huge British portraits and we already have a ton of them in LA at the Huntington. But if there was one such portrait to get, it would have been this one. Every six years, that’s a bit too much. The two works shared with Norton Simon make much more sense, and the joint acquisition has allows for the Simon’s work to get lent to Getty exhibits, which the Simon never does unless they are single works exchange exhibits. Not sure what is gained in this arrangement. Maybe some goodwill when the Getty applies for export licenses?
Anonymous said…
If I was the Getty, I would've declined a joint acquisition. The National Gallery would've never been able to raise the funds and the Getty could've swept in and bought it. $25-$30 million for a painting you don't fully own?!
Anonymous said…
This painting is already owned by an Irish billionaire who has been trying to get an export license. It’s not for sale but for this process to save it for Britain and LA.
Anonymous said…
For generations, the coffers of the museums in London (not to mention the royal collection) have been stuffed to overflowing. So this to them is no big deal, another tchotchke (I'm slightly exaggerating) for the jaded wandering throughout the UK's capital to yawn at.

As for LA? Until not much more than mainly the past 30-50 years, it has had to often play a game of sloppy seconds or deal with a variety of bread crumbs.

In regards to LACMA's new building, it's featured in this video:

(April's fool!)
Anonymous said…
Thirty million for fractional share of a painting?

For $18 million more, the Getty could have had Paul Allen's, Botticelli painting.

The Getty reduced to bargain shopping and pandering to the Brits...
Anonymous said…
I'm kinda curious why the Getty didn't buy a single painting from Paul Allen's collection. There were so many gems in that collection that will never be seen by the public in the near future again.
Just a surmise on my part, but the Allen collection was quite top-heavy with the latter-day masters, and Getty is trying to build a museum collection in the old-master, classical mold of the great European and eastern US joints.
I think that's a mistake.
Getty has more money than God. If a work of a lifetime comes up, they should pounce on it, no matter what era it derives from. Getty's grade would have been enhanced appreciably if they had taken Allen's Klimt, "Birch Forest," for example [ex coll. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer].
The days of building a Met clone are over.
All Getty should focus on is quality, quality, quality. See Norton Simon as teacher.
Anonymous said…
Here's a list of all the great paintings the Getty passed up on:
Anonymous said…
^^^The Getty never intended to become a Met clone.

It's a museum of European art from antiquity (Greece and Rome) to the early 1900's. The pieces from the 1900's are by artists whose work began in the 19th century.

The Klimt piece would have fit that criteria. But as a general rule it's better to collect in depth than introduce a new artist if that new artist is not central to the story your collection tells.

In which case, if the Getty did not like the Botticelli, the better tree painting from the Paul Allen sale was the Van Gogh, Verger avec cypres.

--- J. Garcin
But general rules are my point. Getty can't get great by following general rules.
Getty already has a splendid 1889 Van Gogh study of "Irises" from the classic final 18 months of his life.
People in LA would have their minds blown were the Getty to add a masterpiece of Austrian art the caliber of that Klint.
Anonymous said…
The Klimt went for $104M. The Van Gogh went for $118M. The whole collection was going for a premium. The Getty wouldn’t have been able to afford it even if they were interested in something. The highest they’ve ever paid was an estimated $70M for the Titian ($104M in todays dollars) but that’s rare when they spend that much. They spent that much on Manet's Spring and that was worth it.

The Getty is wise to stick with old masters, which is an area falling out of favor for the superrich. It can choose to wait for that one great painting that comes up every year. Although up until the last few years, it seems like the Getty is only successful every 2 years now and that’s frustrating. Their last great purchase was the Caillebotte in 2021. It’s clearly in a drought. I sort of which they’d extend their cut-off a couple more decades, but the further out after 1900, the more it fails at acquisitions as it gets priced out by hedgefunders.

But steady and slow wins the race. It’s just a matter of time when the museum has a stunner on every inch of its walls. The paintings that are bought by the rich end up at auction sooner or later. And it doesn’t really have any competition from other museums when it does. What other museum is adding anything on the level of Caillebotte’s Young Man at his Window or Manet’s Spring to its collection? Maybe the Kimbell when the Getty was terribly mismanaged by Munitz.
Anonymous said…
Oh, and I don’t consider Omai to be the Getty’s great once-a-couple years purchase, not least because it can only display it every half decade. I’m still waiting for the drought to be over.
Anonymous said…
Ted, that’s a good suggestion on Klimt. LA doesn’t have any paintings by him and it could help the Getty tell the radical departures that Impressionism started. There’s already some precedence for that in the collection with the Munch and Hammershoi, and the Getty already owns two drawings by Klimt.
Anonymous said…
^^^Yes, the auctions prices were high, but there is no avoiding those any longer.

The private sales have dried up. It used to be that a museum could get a bargain for a great painting when sellers did not want to expose themselves at auction. Now, auctions with guaranteed minimums are too hard to resist for even the most reticent of collectors.

Plus, the Getty may no longer have the connections to arrange for those private sales. The former painting curator had previously worked at Sotheby's and knew where all the great paintings in private hands were. Did he take that knowledge and those relationships with him when he retired?

Scarcity is the biggest hindrance now. As a collector, you want a significant Botticelli, Caravaggio, El Greco, Seurat, etc. Almost all are now in museum collections. Last I checked, the pickings from private collections aren't very good. With Caravaggio and Seurat, there is almost nothing of significance. Maybe, the Getty has a better understanding of what's in private collections and is simply biding its time. If not, with each auction, time is running out to fill holes in the collection.

PS. What other museum is adding anything on the level of Caillebotte? That's the wrong problem to have. You want to be the Met which got all its good stuff from collectors and can use its acquisition funds to round out the collection with much more affordable secondary artists. Or, you want to be the Musee d'Orsay which in a private sale recently acquired another Caillebotte painting "Boating Party." You can look for yourself and decide which you like better, the Getty's or the Orsay's. From my standpoint, the Orsay painting allows you to better tell the socio-economic and pictorial story of Impressionism.

--- J. Garcin
Or, you want to live in a culture where civic fame is aspired to. LA ain't it, regrettably.
I do suspect that there's plenty of Getty-grade art in private hands there.
Anonymous said…
Part of the issue is that the US in general, but the West Coast in particular, is a relatively young society. As one example, I was watching an old video of the 50th birthday of Beverly Hills, which in the long span of time is nothing. An event recent enough that at least kinescope television existed.

LACMA wasn't created until 1965 (separate from fossils and dioramas), the Getty (as more than a passing fancy in Malibu) didn't come together until as recently as the late 1990s. Meanwhile, the uncompleted "treacle" Lucas museum (and Crystal Bridges in Arkansas, etc) is contributing to a big ramp up in prices at art auctions and private transactions.

But the much older Paris, France has admittedly seen some of its best and biggest museums created over the past 40 years.
Anonymous said…
Ted, do you mean in terms of collector giving? Because LA had a seemingly impossible $750m museum fully financed mostly through donations, on top of other successful capital campaigns raised across the city for other institutions. I don’t see cultural engagement among the monied to be a problem LA has. It's no longer the city it was 25 years ago. But I don’t think there’s enough old-money wealth in LA where there’s any old masters in private LA collections to be had. Most of LA collects modern to contemporary.

We wish the Getty had collected sooner. That, it can’t get past. Nor will it ever have a Da Vinci or Caravaggio painting, all in museums now. But being the richest museum is still a very advantageous position to be in. The d’Orsay’s Caillebotte is a once in a lifetime acquistion for them. But it’s not common for d’Orsay in these times. It is common for the Getty which makes acquistions at that level every couple years. After the Manet was the Bernini, Parmigianino, Bronzino, two Watteaus and the Rembrandt. All blockbuster purchases and transformative for the museum’s collection. all of them after 2010. That’s proof their current strategy is still working for them.

I think what the market wants is not necessarily what the Getty wants. The market is obsessed with post-impressionists and modern. So it will get priced out of Cezanne and Van Gogh almost always. But the Botticelli still went for less than $50M, within the Getty’s usual price range. Why the Getty didn’t go for it, I don’t know. But I just don’t see a sudden demand for old masters or the price increasing beyond usual inflation. And the Getty benefits because this area is not as popular among collectors anymore. I’m looking at the acquisition history of some notable western museum, and none compares to what comes to the Getty. Old Masters are scarce, but its too soon for the Getty to panic and buy indiscriminately or expand it’s curatorial areas (athough I would love to see that).
Luce said…
Last I heard - The Getty can not collect paintings or drawings made after 1900. Not sure how they got around the rules to collect photography or the outdoor sculptures which I believe were a donation.
Point taken about Angelinos' effort to infuse cash in civic projects. That's something. And laudable.
Anonymous said…
@Luce Is this a self-imposed rule or a condition of Getty's trust?