A Siennese primitive, property of the Louvre withdrawn from a Munich auction


16/11/10 – Unusual – Paris, Musée du Louvre – Two Parisian art dealers, having noticed a Virgin with Child attributed to the Trecento Siennese school in a catalogue for an auction in Munich at Ketterer’s on 29 October (ill. 1), each decided to see the painting for himself and, perhaps, buy it. To their surprise, once at the auction house, they found out the panel had been withdrawn from the sale with no explanation. After insisting to know the reason, they each received the same answer : the Louvre told the auctioneers that it owned the work and had been donated as a promised gift.


1. Screen copy of the Ketterer’s website.
This had been withdrawned.

2. Note of a painting by Niccolò di Buonaccorso
in the Catalogue des peintures
italiennes du Louvre


The Catalogue des peintures italiennes du musée du Louvre (2007) does indeed present on p. 58, Annex 1 (« Liste des tableaux donnés au musée du Louvre sous réserve d’usufruit »), the painting in question, produced by a Siennese artist, Niccolo di Buonaccorso. The short entry (this whole section is by Dominique Thiébaut) states that the painting was donated in 1976 by Mme Lanini-Strölin (ill. 2).
So how could it have ended up in an auction in Germany ? Were the heirs trying to sell it inconspicuously, thus effectively robbing the Louvre ? Not at all : the work was put up for sale by the Ulm museum, in Germany, after having received it as a bequest. Had the donor, an aging woman, perhaps suffered from memory loss and forgotten that the work had been donated to the Louvre over thirty years ago ? Probably. We do not have any further details concerning the matter since the Ulm museum, whom we contacted, did not wish to provide any comments.
A promised gift automatically becomes the property of the beneficiary without any other possible claim. The Ministry of Culture provided Ulm with all the evidence, especially since an inventory number for national museums appears on the back of the painting. The Louvre should have no trouble recovering it, as the German museum it seems has been very cooperative.
We knew that “inalienability” is not as strict in Germany as it is in France but that still leaves us wondering as to how a work that had just recently been left to a public collection could immediately, and so easily, be put up for auction.

After the Degas at Sotheby’s New York (see news item of 5/11/10), the Siennese primitive in Munich : a strange coincidence placed two works belonging to the Louvre at risk of disappearing at auction a few days apart.


Didier Rykner, mardi 16 novembre 2010



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