Tag Archives: Hesse

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.

Craft commits suicide; art envy arrested on suspicion

The victim pulled the trigger on itself, detective Garth Clark says, but it was under the influence of Art.

That’s Art, no last name, sometimes known as Fine Art. And though the corpse keeps getting tricked out for public events like the stiff in the movie comedy Weekend at Bernie’s, the actual time of death was, oh, somewhere around 1995.

That, more or less, is the argument Clark gave to a packed and sometimes steaming house last night in the Pacific Northwest College of Art‘s Swigert Commons. Clark, a longtime gallery owner, curator and prolific writer on craft (the guy knows his porcelains), was lecturing on “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts,” and he meant every word of it.

As he delivered his wry and scholarly Molotov cocktail, Clark reminded me a bit of John Houseman in The Paper Chase, measured and severe but with a, well, crafty twist of humor to his delivery. He knew he was going to be tromping on some toes, and while he delighted in the process, he did so en pointe so as not to cause too many hurt feelings. “Hi, my name is Garth Clark,” he greeted the crowd. “I’m a recovering art dealer.”

What is this art envy? Good question.

Surely it has something to do with money. Clark quoted one excellent potter of his acquaintance who says he and his friends have a word for potters who make a living entirely from their craft. It’s unicorns, “because we’ve never seen one.”

And surely it has something to do with reputation, with being taken seriously. Artists are simply thought of more highly, as more creative beings, more intellectual, and therefore more important (and, let’s underscore, more worthy of high prices in exchange for their work).

Perhaps it has something to do with escaping an eternal past. “Craft has been overdosing on nostalgia,” Clark averred. “This is craft’s Achilles heel.” That’s not surprising, he added, since the modern movement (which he stretches back 150 years, a very long time for a movement of any sort) was born as a revival, and thus looking backwards from its beginning.

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