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."