Holbein’s Madonna sells for $70 million

By Bob Hicks

Many of you will remember Hans Holbein‘s exquisite 1528 painting Madonna with Basel Mayer Jakob Meyer and His Family, often known as the Darmstadt Madonna, which was the centerpiece of the Portland Art Museum’s blockbuster exhibition Hesse: A Princely German Collection in 2005.

holbein-madonnaJudith H. Dobrzynski passes along the news on her blog Real Clear Arts that the Hesse family has sold its most famous asset to German billionaire Reinhold Wuerth, and gives a fascinating recap of the painting’s history in the process. Dobrzynski links to Bloomberg’s news account. Other sources confirm the painting will land in Wuerth’s private museum, which is open to the public, in an old German church. Bloomberg and Dobrzynski give a price of “at least” $70 million, and Dobrzynski notes that it might have been as high as $165 million — a staggering sum, even in the masterpiece market — if the German government had allowed it to be sold out of country.

At the time of the Portland exhibition it was known that the Hesses were facing a mammoth inheritance tax bill and despite many years of caring for the Holbein — including protecting it from destruction during World War II — had been exploring selling the work. The Getty at one point reportedly was interested, but German law forbidding the sale of masterworks outside the country put an end to negotiations.

The Hesses were good stewards. Presumably, Wuerth will be, too. And best of all, the painting will remain available to the public. Portlanders were lucky to see it when they did.


Art Scatter has also been following the adventures of Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who has lectured at the Portland Art Museum and who was ousted as that country’s minister of antiquities after this year’s Egyptian revolution, only to be reinstated. We wrote about the shifting situation here, here, and here.

Well, we can’t keep up.

Three days ago, Hawass once more got the boot. The story, from Smithsonian.com, is here.

Then, just hours ago, he was reinstated yet again, according to lezgetreal.com. The Daily Beast confirms the report.

Art Scatter doesn’t know what to say, except that it reminds us of the days when George Steinbrenner kept hiring, firing, and rehiring Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees. People said Steinbrenner and the volatile Martin deserved each other. We hesitate to draw any parallels to Hawass and the revolutionary leadership.