A Painting Attributed to Pierre Mignard Donated to the Musée Calvet

1. Attributed to Pierre Mignard (1612-1695)
Alexandre’s Meeting with
the Queen of the Amazon
, circa 1660
Oil on Canvas - 248 x 249 cm
Avignon, Musée Calvet
Photo : Musée Calvet

13/8/12 - Acquisition - Avignon, Musée Calvet - Every once in a while, we have an extraordinary story to tell. We are referring to the acquisition last month, by the Musée Calvet, of a very beautiful painting attributed to Pierre Mignard (ill. 1).
The news might surprise otherwise observant visitors. In fact, the painting had been on view already for several years with a sign stating : "Formerly in the collection of Montillet de Grenaud, chartreuse de Bonpas. Acquired after 1943" and inventory number "998.0.2". But the story is much more complicated and this work which had been taken out of storage was actually a forgotten deposit, fortunately brought back to light by the new curator Sylvain Boyer.

Concerned with making a thorough inventory of the collections when he arrived, the curator had found this work [1] in storage. It had no historical background nor inventory number. The only possible clue was to be found on the stretcher, inscribed in chalk : "painting of Mr. Burrus". It was assigned a temporary inventory number and in 2000 the painting was restored in Marseille, at the Centre Interdisciplinaire de Conservation et de Restauration du Patrimoine.
At the same time, Sylvain Boyer with the help of Franck Guillaume, succeeded in piecing together the history of the canvas : originally in the collection of Henri de Montillet de Grenaud, it resided at the Chartreuse de Caumont, six kilometres away from Avignon, owned by his family who put it up for sale in May 1943 (at a time when there were more pressing problems to tend to than conserving art works). The buyer was Maurice Burrus, an industrialist from Vaison-la-Romaine, who immediately placed it on deposit at the museum and left for Switzerland the following year. The painting therefore did not really belong to the museum and could be recovered by Mr. Burrus’ descendants at any time. Fortunately, the canvas was definitively donated to the museum thanks to their generosity (and also the initiative of the Fondation Calvet) on 5 July and received its official inventory number of "2012.1".

2. Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668)
Portrait of a Lady, 1653
Oil on Canvas - 248 x 249 cm
Private Collection
Photo : Christie’s

Is this painting really by Pierre Mignard ? Despite consultation with several specialists, the attribution has not yet been entirely acknowledged. Jean-Claude Boyer, the artist’s specialist, has seen the work but has not made any pronouncement either way.
In any case, it is quite clear that we are looking at an authentic masterpiece. For Sylvain Boyer : "If this painting is by Pierre Mignard, it must necessarily correspond to a rather early date, circa 1657, when he came to Avignon to see his brother Nicolas. At the time they had not yet had their falling-out and Pierre painted, it seems, in his brother’s studio, the painting from the Puech collection which we hold, Inv. 23635, Portrait of Henri de Forbin Maynier (which is signed and dated 1657) and the large Saint Véran for the Cavaillon cathedral (in situ). Should we also add our Alexander to this list ? In my opinion, I think so, but only a document stating the commission conditions could show actual proof. Given the size (3 m long) and the nature of the work, this was ordered by a prestigious patron".

While the Musée Calvet’s restoration budget is quite significant, that for acquisitions is practically non-existent. Will inventory item n°1 for 2012 remain the only one ? Sylvain Boyer sincerely wishes to add another Mignard, but Nicolas this time, Portrait of a Lady (ill. 2) from a private collection [2], which the Fondation Calvet had tried to purchase, to no avail, in 1998 at Christie’s Monaco [3]. The owners have now lent it to the Musée Calvet and are asking 90,000€. This is a relatively modest sum which can probably be found with the help of the Fonds du patrimoine and the Fonds régional d’acquisition des musées, rounded out perhaps with a fundraising drive. Or else, a private firm may wish to generously step forward as a patron which, given the 40% tax deduction, would mean this art treasure would cost only 60% of the stated price.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 16 août 2012


[1] It had already been noticed a bit earlier by his predecessor, Philippe Malgouyres.

[2] Published by Antoince Schnapper in the Revue de l’Art (Antoine Schnapper, "Après l’exposition Nicolas Mignard", Revue de l’Art, 52, 1981, pp. 29-36).

[3] On 12 December 1998, lot n° 47.

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