In Brief

The Getty Buys Trove Valued at Over $100M, Includes a Michelangelo and a Watteau

A new acquisition by The Getty augments their already significant collection of European Old Master works.

Girolamo Mazzola, called Parmigianino, “Head of a Young Man” (ca.1539-40) (all images courtesy the J. Paul Getty Trust)

The Getty Museum has announced a major acquisition of master works that will greatly enrich its Department of Drawings. Entering its collection are 16 drawings by Michelangelo, Parmigianino, Rubens, Goya, Degas, and other great artists — all male, notably — from Western art history. Purchased as a group from an unidentified British private collection, the acquisition is a landmark move for the institution, which has built up its trove of European drawings over two and a half decades. The institution’s director Timothy Potts described it as “a transformative event in the history of the Getty Museum. Many art specialists are estimating the total amount paid for the works certainly exceed $100 million, but the museum has not commented on the final price.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Study of a Mourning Woman” (ca. 1500-05)

“It is very unlikely that there will ever be another opportunity to elevate so significantly our representation of these artists, and, more importantly, the status of the Getty collection overall,” he said in a press release.

Among the acquired masterpieces is Parmigianino’s incredibly detailed ink drawing a young man’s head, portrayed frontally, and a drawing by Michelangelo of a woman in mourning who hides her face within the folds of her draped garment. The latter was discovered in 2000 at Castle Howard in England and was valued then at £8 million (~$10.4M USD).

While the museum did not reveal the price tag of this monumental buy, Potts told the New York Times that it was “the Getty’s biggest in terms of financial value.”

The drawings mostly date to the 16th century and the majority are by Italian artists. Also represented is Rubens, whose early 17th-century oil-on-paper work of an African man served as the study of one of the central figures in his famed “The Adoration of the Magi.” And from Goya arrives a particularly foreboding brush-and-ink drawing: “The Eagle Hunter” (1812–20) portrays a hunter hanging from a cliff to reach for eggs in a nest, his face hidden by a metal cooking pot that serves as a helmet — particularly necessary in this scene, as the parent eagle appears behind him, with sharp claws at the ready.

Aside from the drawings, the Getty also acquired one painting of a fête galante by Antoine Watteau. “La Surprise” depicts a couple in an amorous embrace as a musician watches them, and a dog watches him. Once lost for almost two centuries and believed to be destroyed, the work was found in 2007 in a British private collection. According to the LA Times, the Watteau was “on offer for more than $22 million in 2011.”

It will be some time before the public will be able to see these treasures in person. The majority of the artworks are currently in storage at the Getty, but export licenses for three are still pending. The museum is currently planning to showcase the entire group together in a special exhibition at a date to be decided.

Lorenzo di Credi, “Head of a Young Boy Crowned with Laurel” (ca. 1500-05)
Fra Bartolommeo, “Studies of the Heads of Two Dominican Friars” (ca. 1511)
Jean Antoine Watteau, “La Surprise” (ca. 1718) (all images courtesy the J. Paul Getty Trust)
Francisco de Goya, “The Eagle Hunter” (ca. 1812-20)
John Martin, “The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host” (1836)
Sebastiano del Piombo, “Study for the Figure of Christ Carrying the Cross” (ca.1513-14)
Federico Barocci, “Study for the Head of St. Joseph” (ca. 1586)
Edgar Degas, “After the Bath” (ca.1886)
Domenico Beccafumi, “Head of a Youth” (ca.1530)
Peter Paul Rubens, “Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban” (ca. 1609-13)
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