English work sets record; sparks family spat
An 1824 work by English painter John Constable sold for $35 million at auction earlier this month, setting a record for the influential artist while also highlighting an ugly family spat.
According to several media reports, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza blamed the decision to sell “The Lock,” a work that had hung in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, founded by the baroness’ late husband, on Spain’s slumping economy.
Apparently oblivious to the benefits of modern public relations, the baroness quipped to a Spanish newspaper, ”I need the money – I really need it. I have no liquidity. Keeping the collection here is costly to me, and I get nothing in return.”
The sale drew the ire of the baroness’ family as well as a board member of the museum, who resigned in protest, according to a Reuters report.
A stepdaughter of the baroness was quoted in the British press saying that her stepmother “has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Former museum board member Norman Rosenthal was quoted by Reuters as saying in his resignation letter that the sale “represents a moral shame on the part of all those concerned.”
The sale of art from a museum collection is known as deaccessioning and is frowned upon by the art world. Some museums have strict rules regarding the sale of art and how the money from those sales can be used, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The uproar stands in dire contrast to the peaceful image shown in Constable’s work. “The Lock” depicts a bucolic English countryside setting akin to something out of a Thomas Hardy novel, with a man working a lock of a canal.
The price was more than double what Thyssen-Bornemisza’s husband, Swiss industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, paid for it in 1990. The billionaire art collector died in 2002.
The work is part of Constable’s set of six-foot canvases that include “The White Horse” (1819) and “The Hay Wain” (1822), according to the International Business Times. “It was bought at the 1824 Royal Academy exhibition by James Morrison and remained in the possession of his descendants until acquired by the current owner in 1990.”
According to auction house Christie’s, Constable was one of the most original artistic forces to emerge in the early 19th century. The impact of his work continued to reverberate in Britain, and internationally, long after his death in 1837.
“The artist’s success in France has been seen by many art historians as having significantly influenced the course of the history of art, as his intense observation of nature inspired French artists in a movement of landscape painting that would find its fullest expression half a century later in the work of the Impressionists,” according to the International Business Times.
(Above: The Lock, by John Constable, 1824)