July 30 2012
Picture: Robert Simon/Tim Nighswander
Big news, potentially - Brian Boucher in Art in America has the scoop that the newly discovered Leonardo, Salvator Mundi, is being considered by the Dallas Museum of Art. The picture, with a rumoured price of $200m, is reported to be at Dallas now. The museum says 'We are actively exploring the possibility of acquiring it.'
And so they should, for in doing so they would double the number of Leonardos on public display in America. Being an American discovery, it seems to me right that the picture stays in America. The other US Leonardo is Ginevra de Benci in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington. Boucher notes that the Salvator Mundi would, if Dallas did buy it, become their 'destination picture'. But he also records some of the (sadly inevitable) doubts associated with buying a 'discovery' painting, which come from the New York-based dealer Richard Feigen:
For his part, Feigen, who saw Leonardo's Salvator Mundi in London, does not find it to be as commanding a work, and observes that it would be a lonely old master in a European paintings department in Dallas with strengths in the 18th through the 20th centuries.
"To me it is not a gripping masterpiece," he says. "For me Dallas would make a more serious splash by going after several lesser priced paintings in very fine condition. It would be cause for chatter in the museum world if Dallas bought eight or 10 really serious old master paintings, a field where they had not previously ventured."
Salvator Mundi has been "very considerably overpainted," according to the catalogue from the National Gallery's exhibition, and subsequently "aggressively over-cleaned," in addition to, at some point, suffering a split in the wood panel, resulting in some paint losses.
These condition issues, along with the high price, may be the reason the sellers have found no takers after offering the painting to other museums, which three sources who spoke to A.i.A. said it had been. The price and condition are also said to have led to considerable debate among those connected to the Dallas Museum.
"With an acquisition of that magnitude there's always some divided opinion," said a Dallas-based source with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Its price and condition have led to some doubts."
I'm slightly surprised to see a dealer as emminent as Feigen commenting on the suitability of a potential sale by a fellow dealer. 'Not done', as my grandmother used to say. And as I said when I first saw the picture, the condition really isn't that bad.