A Guercino Sibyl Acquired for the British Collections through Acceptance in Lieu

1. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri,
called Le Guerchin (1591-1666)
The Samian Sibyl, 1651
Oil on Canvas - 218.5 x 180 cm
British Public Collections
Exhibited at present at the National Gallery, London
Photo : National Gallery

9/03/12 - Acquisition - British Museums - Last 8 March, another Guercino painting, The Samian Sibyl (ill. 1), took up residence at the National Gallery in London, either temporarily or permanently. The work was acquired through acceptance in lieu but the museum where it will find its final home has not yet been assigned.

If it were to stay in London, this canvas would join The Cumes Sibyl (ill. 2) by the same artist which was part of the Denis Mahon collection and now belongs to the National Gallery [1].
These two Sibyls, besides their similar subjects and sizes, also share a common history. The Cumes one was executed in 1651, commissioned by Gioseffo Locatelli, as a pair for a David (ill. 3). However, according to Malvasia [2], Prince Mattias de Medici saw it in Guercino’s studio and bought it. The painter had to therefore produce another Sibyl, the one which has just joined the British collections and which was acquired in 1768, along with the David, by Earl Spencer (or Count Spencer).
The work belonged, until today, to Earl Spencer, Lady Diana’s brother, and was held at Althorp House, while its pair, the David, had been sold by the Earl at Christie’s London on 6 July 2010 for 4.6 million pounds (without charges).

2. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri,
called Le Guerchin (1591-1666)
The Cumes Sibyl, 1651
Oil on Canvas - 222 x 168.5 cm
London, National Gallery
Photo : National Gallery

3. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri,
called Le Guerchin (1591-1666)
David, 1651
Oil on Canvas - 223.5 x 167.5 cm
United Kingdom, Private Collection
On deposit at Spencer House, London
Photo : Christie’s

The painting of King David had been purchased at auction by a British collector who placed it on deposit at...Spencer House in London, built by the first Earl Spencer, the same one who had bought the two paintings in the 18th century. As this residence is open to the public, visitors will be able to admire both works, but in different places. Eventually, we hope the two paintings will be permanently reunited in a British public collection.

Version fran├žaise

Didier Rykner, lundi 12 mars 2012


[1] Denis Mahon, who donated most of his collection to British museums, had offered to sell the Cumes Sibyl to the National Gallery where it had been on deposit since 1992, allowing it to spread out payment until 2019. In case of death, the balance due would be annulled and the work would become property of the museum. This painting was thus partly purchased and partly donated on the death of the collector last year (see news item of 28/4/11).

[2] See Michael Heston and Tom Henry, Guercino in Britain. Paintings from British Collections, The National Gallery, Burlington Magazine, London, 1991, pp. 58-61.

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