Thursday, September 29, 2011

That Same Poussin

Nicolas Poussin
ca. 1636

This painting is beginning to be very familiar on this blog. Last December I talked here about its failure to sell at auction in London because bidding "stalled" at $21 million, a figure that fell short of the reserve price. Then in August I revisited the topic here, wondering why the Getty hadn't bought it. As I discovered today, it was also in August that an export license was granted by the British government at the request of the painting's private purchaser, the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. (Below, a detail of the original Kimbell building by the great Louis I. Kahn (and one of his few successfully completed projects).)

Earlier this month the Kimbell put the painting on display and began to publicize the acquisition. The press in Texas reported rumors that the Museum paid around $24 million, negotiating anonymously after the auction's failure. After the purchase was made there was a three-month waiting period to give the British public (or philanthropists or institutions or whomever) a chance to raise funds and match the price and keep the work inside the country, but those sorts of appeals are seldom successful. On September 9 when the Kimbell's press release came out, the L.A. Times ran a culture blog asking the question I had asked in August: "why didn't the Getty grab the picture?" And with the question coming from the L.A. Times, the Getty actually replied --

David Bomford, the Getty Museum's acting director, responded to an inquiry: "The Museum opted not to acquire the Poussin in part because we had just completed the record-setting acquisition of the Turner ['Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino'], but more importantly because we feel that there are two Poussin paintings already in the Getty's collection that are at least as good: 'Holy Family' and 'Landscape with Calm.' We were also concerned about breaking up the set of the Sacraments that had been shown for many years at the National Gallery London."

Like most such public statements, this one rests on a firm foundation of misleading implications and disputable assertions, with surviving Poussins competing against each other for ranking (like American sports teams) and the white flag of immaculate ethics waving over the Getty's several unmentioned and still-smoking scandals.