Collioure recovers its Romanesque capitals

1. Meridional Roman Art
Two Capitals, XIV century.
Stone - H. 29 et 29.2 cm
Collioure, Jardins du musée Peské.
Photo : Sotheby’s New York

3/2/09 – Acquisitions – Collioure, Musée Peské – Sotheby’s catalogues for the traditional January auctions in New York offered paintings and sculptures of very high quality, several even of museum level, notably some beautiful Italian primitives and large Caravaggesque paintings which have now become quite rare on the art market. Despite the current financial crisis, prices resisted firmly [1], at times reaching record sums, as in the case of the four tiny panels by Gentile de Fabriano at over $500,000 each, the Landscape with Flight into Egypt by Martin Ryckaert ($700,000) and a small Madonna by Schedoni ($600,000). Among the paintings being sold by the collector Luigi Koelliker, the Pair of Youths with Firebrand and Brazier from Georges de la Tour’s workshop and the Saint Michael Archangel by Cesare Dandini both went for the same amount, $542,000. Two lots sold for over $10 Million, the Bagpipe Player by Ter Brugghen and Turner’s Temple of Jupiter Panellenius Restored [2].

2. Meridional Roman Art
Two Capitals, XIV century.
Stone - H. 29.3 et 30.2 cm
Collioure, Jardins du musée Peské.
Photo : Sotheby’s New York

Under lot numbers 300 and 301, Sotheby’s offered four capitals from the former Dominican cloister in Collioure. They were acquired by the Conseil Général des Pyrénées-Orientales for respectively, $16,250 for the first two (ill. 1) and $37,500 for the second pair (ill. 2), that is, a total of about 42,000€ [3]. Founded in 1290, the former convent in Collioure was located, not in the village, but rather in the Faubourg (suburb), today known as Port d’Avall (famous for views by Matisse and Derain). The buildings served as a barracks and artillery depot during the French Revolution, then were divided into various lots during the sale of “bien nationaux”. The 13th century church was bought in 1926 by local vine growers and today is used as a storeroom for the cooperative wine cellars. A year later, an antique dealer from Perpignan managed to buy the arches from the cloister’s east gallery and sold them in 1931 to an Australian, Reginal Wright, who installed them in the château de Brindos which he built in a Medieval style near Anglet in the southwest of France [4]. Eight of these arches were finally acquired by the city of Collioure and installed in 1998, along with other elements sold by private individuals, in the Pams gardens of the Musée d’art moderne, not far from their original location. Several fragments disappeared, either in 1927, or at the château de Brindos between 1952 and 1963. The four capitals which were recently recovered belonged to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art which let go of them in 1986 [5]. These will join the rest of the pieces already preserved. Despite their relatively late date, the style is still dependent on the Romanesque aesthetics typical of that region, such as the one at Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. Of special notice is the narrative detail of the demons attempting to seize hold of a dying man’s soul (ill. 2).

Version française

Jérôme Montcouquiol, mardi 3 février 2009


[1] Sale of 30 January 2009. All of the prices quoted in this news item include purchase charges.

[2] This was its title at the exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1816, thus distinguishing it from its pair with a temple in ruins (Alnwick Castle, Duke of Northumberland’s collection).

[3] With a contribution of 10,000€ from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The “department” was notified of the sale by the Direction des Musées de France, Oliver Poisson, Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historiques and Jean-Bernard Mathon from the Centre départemental de restauration. The Musée Peské, directed by Joséphine Matamoros, is managed by the region.

[4] As in the case of other cloisters in Languedoc-Roussillon (and Spain) acquired by American collectors in the 1920’s and today held at the Cloisters Museum in New York or at the Philadelphia Museum, this is not an example, as implied by parts of the press, of theft or pillaging. Most of them were used as local quarries and had been progressively taken apart for decades. The offices of the Monuments historiques played its role in protecting them when it listed the remaining ruins at that same period but was unable to prevent the export, at times clandestine, of elements seized by individuals.

[5] Sotheby’s sale, New York, 25 November 1986, lot 4.

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