A Zurbarán and a Champaigne Donated to the Seattle Art Museum

1. Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
The Flight into Egypt, 1630-1635
Oil on canvas - 150 x 159 cm
Photo : Seattle Art Museum

24/12/11 - Acquisitions - Seattle, Art Museum - Two important paintings have joined the collections at the Seattle Art Museum, donated by the collector Barney A. Ebsworth. This is a fractional gift, an original form of donation : the collector cedes part ownership of the work to the museum (while benefiting from the corresponding tax deduction) and keeps the rest temporarily. The whole work will belong to the museum at the end of ten years, or else at the death of the owner should this occur before that time period. The two paintings, The Flight into Egypt by Francisco Zurbarán (ill. 1) and The Visitation by Philippe de Champaigne (ill. 2), exhibited at the museum since 21 December, will thus be presented at least three months a year, and the collector will recover them the other part of the time (unless he decides to leave them there on deposit).

The Flight into Egypt by Zurbarán, mentioned by Odile Delenda in her catalogue raisonné [1] dates from around 1630-1635. The work is particularly attractive for its refined colors and the very sober triangular composition which enhances the monumental figures, enlivened by the flowing draperies. The painter treats the theme with a certain originality since the flight into Egypt is usually a pretext for presenting figures lost in a landscape whereas here, on the contrary, they occupy the entire space. There are several known copies of this work, one by the Peruvian Joaquín Urreta is signed and dated 1767, another resides at the Ashmolean Museum. A version held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon, presenting some differences with the one in Seattle (notably the landscape in the background), was attributed until now to Zurbarán or his studio. According to Odile Delenda, the resurfacing of this canvas in Seattle confirms the uncertainty of the attribution for the previous one. She points out that the scene is more anecdotal and less realistic, the figures less monumental, smaller, and the volumes less pronounced. Thus, she concludes by attributing it to the Master of Besançon, a conventional master active in Seville around 1630-1640, whom she has created and to whom she ascribes twenty-seven paintings.

2. Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
The Visitation, circa 1643
Oil on canvas - 122.4 x 97.8 cm
Seattle, Art Museum
Photo : Wildenstein Gallery

The Visitation comes from the Tubeuf chapel in the church of the Oratoire in Paris [2] where Philippe de Champaigne painted all of the décor : above the altar there was The Nativity now residing at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, on the ceiling The Assumption of the Virgin held at the Musée Thomas-Henry in Cherbourg and on the side walls Joseph’s Dream, now lost, as well as this Visitation [3]. There are several known versions of this subject by the artist or his studio, with standing figures, notably at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva and at Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Another painting, auctioned off at Christie’s on 7 July 1995, in horizontal format, presents the image backwards, with a third masculine figure added on the right.

In concluding, we would like to point out that this very beautiful painting, which had already belonged to the Wildenstein Gallery, had been acquired by the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) and was sold in 1968 [4], yet another example which speaks in favor of prohibiting the practice of deaccessioning by museums.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges and Didier Rykner, samedi 24 décembre 2011


[1] Odile Delenda, in collaboration with Almuden Ros de Barbero, Zurbarán. Los conjuntos y el obrador, volumen II, Wildenstein Institute, 2012, pp. 298-300.

[2] The church, on the rue Saint-Honoré, is today a Protestant temple.

[3] We have taken this information from Joseph Baillo’s entry in the catalogue for the exhibition The Art of France, New York, Wildenstein Gallery, 2005, which we reviewed here (see article in French). We point out, without wishing to reopen the debate between Moana Weil-Curiel (see article in French) and José Gonçalves (see his response) that in the latter’s catalogue on Philippe de Champaigne, available online here, this Visitation is presented as follows : "Chapelle Tubeuf, dans l’église de l’oratoire, rue Saint Honoré à Paris (Tubeuf chapel, in the church of the Oratoire, rue Saint Honoré in Paris)" but the entry explains : "Cadré en demi-figures, ce qui l’exclut du décor pour la chapelle Tubeuf comme cela a prévalu jusqu’à ce jour, dont les trois autres tableaux sont en pied ; c’est d’ailleurs une réduction, simplifiée, de la Visitation de ce décor (Framed in half-figures, which thus excludes it from the décor of the Tubeuf chapel as has been maintained until now, and for which the other three paintings are full standing figures ; this is in fact a reduced, simplified, version of The Visitation from this décor)", a statement lacking in logical rigor. Furthermore, it is hard to understand how the author can say that the other paintings from this décor are standing, since Joseph’s Dream is lost, if we overlook the fact of course that elsewhere he states the painting of this subject at the National Gallery is probably the one from the Tubeuf chapel.

[4] We would also remark that José Gonçalves provides a final element in the painting’s background : "then Wildenstein, Passadéna [sic]"...

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