There’s a corker of a post over at Artwatch concerning the recently acquired Perino del Vaga Holy Family and Infant St John by the Met in New York. A very important article with implications for the world of conservation, and the art market.
The Perino del Vaga was a triumph for the Met, bought for $2.098 m, along with a drawing by this master at Sotheby’s New Year Old Master sale. So what, you might say. Well, the Perino picture was unrestored, Sotheby’s deciding not to clean it up for the market.
This literally paid off with the picture selling for a record price unlike a restored old master which underperformed- Titian’s A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria. The re-touched Titian failed to reach its upper estimate only selling for $16.9 m (£10.6 m). This is significant according to Artwatch….
“Although even this low price broke a 20 years old auction house record for the artist, it did so when the going “museum rate” for privately sold large multi-figure Titians is about £50m (as with the Diana and Actaeon when recently bought jointly by the National Gallery, London, and the National Galleries of Scotland).”
And this points up an important development…
“The high premium that auctioneers now place on little or un-restored works is, to critics of restoration practices, one of the most heartening developments of our times. Another is the fact that some restorers, even, acknowledge that less has proved more in the preservation of old masters. The New York dealer/restorer, Marco Grassi, has disclosed that of the paintings coming into his hands, the ones enjoying the best condition are those of relatively minor and unfashionable artists. As he concludes, because such lesser works are so often “impeccably preserved, so we have to think something terrible started in the nineteenth century when the painter/restorer trade began.”
And the Met’s position on this? Artwatch is disappointed to report an “eccentric reading of the sale” by Keith Christiansen, one of the museum’s senior curators…“Though the work sold for more than its estimate, Mr. Christiansen said the museum actually benefited from what he called ‘negative chatter’ about it from dealers. Although the painting is in good condition, he said, it is filthy and will go on view only after it is cleaned. Paintings by this Renaissance master are rare.”
And even worse, the fate of this rare Perino to be satisfied by taste!??
“Restoration is interpretation”, and, “in the end, it’s a matter of taste. And I guess I have confidence in my taste.”
Artwatch have neither confidence in Keith Christiansen’s taste nor the possibility that he might re-consider the fate of the Perino. A long and painful silence prevails, though contacts tell me that pressure is being put on the Met to respond. Personally, I think Artwatch have got KC over a barrel. Just from the reproduction I can see that the work is in great condition and crying out to be admired by the public. Why this compulsion to clean it?