Tag Archives: Holbein

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.

Ashland 3: the ‘Henry VIII’ whitewash, ‘Equivocation’ hits a home run

Queen Katherine (Vilma Silva) urges King Henry (Elijah Alexander) to cease the heavy taxations on his subjects. Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival/2009.

Above: Vilma Silva is soon-to-be-dumped Queen Katherine and Elijah Alexander is the charismatic king in “Henry VIII.” Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival/2009. Inset below: Portrait of Henry VIII by unknown artist, in the manner of Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1540.

I have breakfast, lunch and dinner with Henry the Eighth. Not that I let it go to my head.

A few years ago Mrs. Scatter, on one of her periodic scavenger hunts among the urban assemblages of second-hand stuff, discovered a giant street sign, weather-battered but arresting, from a British pub called the King’s Head that was part of the Vaux Brewery chain. It’s magnificent, in a run-down way. On one side, painted in the beefy commanding Holbein manner and peeling from years of exposure to wind and rain, is a portrait of Henry VIII. On the other — the side that now faces the wall — is Edward, the reluctant king who reigned over the Commonwealth for less than a year in 1936 before choosing the twice-married American socialite Wallis Simpson over the crown. Thus Vaux and the King’s Head laid claim to the two monarchs who got tangled up one way or another with divorce courts.

Now Henry eats up most of a wall in the Scatter dining room, and if guests find him threatening or domineering, they don’t mention it: no sense in ruffling the royal feathers. We call him Hank, and find him a pleasant companion on the whole. He displays a lusty appetite, which encourages good eating.

Portrait of Henry VIII by unknown artist in the manner of Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1540It’s almost as if we’ve turned this towering, talented, shrewd and savage leader into a pet — and so, in a way, does Shakespeare in Henry VIII, his final play. When it came to politics Shakespeare, whose company was sponsored by the king, played a necessarily careful hand (see Equivocation, below). His Henry, while hardly blame-free, is a generous-hearted fellow, good to his courtiers, solicitous of the feelings of the wife he’s dumping after 20 years, self-persuaded that his exchange of used-car Katherine for racy new convertible Anne is a matter of conscience, and painfully misled in matters of taxation and treachery by that rascal of a right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. In meticulously pruning the monarchial vines Shakespeare’s created a fine hearty fellow, if a little mixed-up and dense — and if there’s one thing the real Henry was not, it’s dense.

Henry VIII has some grand pageantry and good speeches and a few good character sketches, most notably of the canny schemer Wolsey and the heroically wronged Katherine, but in Shakespearean terms it’s not a very good play: too little drama, too much speechifying, too many stretches where it needs to get on with the show, and an ending — the birth in a bejeweled manger of darling little Elizabeth, hope and savior of the nation — that smacks of royal toadying to the Nth degree. So it’s a bit of a surprise that this flattering gloss of a history is this season’s best production on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s outdoor Elizabethan Stage. Not the best outdoor play (Much Ado About Nothing is that, by a far shot) but the best production. Continue reading Ashland 3: the ‘Henry VIII’ whitewash, ‘Equivocation’ hits a home run