Friday, August 19, 2011

Poussin Postscript

Back in December I wrote here about the Poussin Sacrament of Ordination seen above when it unsuccessfully went up for auction in London:

Christie's expected to sell the painting for somewhere between $25 and $30 million. The seven Poussin Sacrament paintings have been owned by the Dukes of Rutland since the 1780s. One perished in a fire and one was sold to an American tycoon in the 1930s. The five survivors in the suite have been on view at the National Gallery in London as long-term loans for the past several years. Then this year the Rutland Trustees decided to sell one off to pay for restoration of Belvoir Castle not a popular decision among the art lovers of England, needless to say. Yesterday's sale, then, turned out to be bad news for the Trustees and good news for the art lovers when bidding on the painting stalled at $21 million. With the reserve unmet, Ordination went unsold.

It amazed me that nobody in the whole world wanted to bid up a few million and acquire a truly great Poussin. Paintings sell all the time now for $50 and $100 million. The new tycoons buy a lot of art, and some institutions still also manage to compete. The Getty bought a Turner at auction last summer for $45 million (as seen below).

The Poussin would have been perfect for the Getty. They already have three, including the splendid Landscape with a Calm.

The more I thought about it the more it seemed impossible the Getty curators would not have wanted the Poussin Ordination. It seems likelier that higher powers in the museum decided the purchase would be too controversial, since the Getty has frequently been accused of plundering art works from other countries.