From Roelandt Savery to Theodore Rousseau : four new landscapes at the Getty

1. Roelandt Savery (1840-1917)
Landscape with the Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1617
Oil on panel - 49.1 x 94 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

30/12/08 – Acquisitions – Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum – Last 10 December the Getty Museum announced the purchase of Landscape with the Temptation of Saint Anthony by Roelandt Savery (ill. 1), dated 1617. Characteristic of the transition from the Mannerist conception of landscapes to that of the 17th century Naturalist school, it also reflects the new demand at that time by art lovers for large formats representing nature.
Savery, who was at the service of Emperor Rodolphe II in Prague, had travelled extensively in 1606 in the Tyrol region and produced drawings and small formats illustrating forests. After returning to Amsterdam and Utrecht, he used them to conceive vast landscapes, with several “vanishing points”, filled with light rays, waterfalls and mountains, and very different from the geography found in the Netherlands. The grandiose and heroic aspect of the elements evokes some paintings by Kerstiaen of Keuninck. In the foreground, the artist exhibits his well-known talents in painting animals and refers to the anecdote of the saint in retreat, on the left, as a reflection on man’s place in nature, a frequent theme in contemporary painters, from Bril to Jan Brueghel the Elder, and which will continue during the Baroque (Poussin, Claude,…)

2. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Sphinx, c. 1898-1900
Brown Wash and Graphite - 48.3 x 31.7 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

Despite these very real qualities the overly glowing tone of the museum’s press release is a bit exaggerated. This is certainly an important acquisition, but not as fundamental as they claim (to the point of stating “one of the most important works by the artist to become available in several decades”) as the artist appears regularly on the art market [1]. The press statement sins by omission in carefully avoiding to indicate the recent provenance of the panel. It in fact belonged to Brian and Esther Pilkington who had lent it to the National Gallery in London. The Getty was able to purchase it after negotiating for two years, as the Ministry of Culture in England had judged it to be non-patrimonial and authorized its export having other more pressing problems to deal with (see news item of 28/8/08) as well as a reduced budget which is not bound to improve soon given the current financial crisis [2]. This is not the first time that the Getty seeks to acquire paintings on loan in London (for example Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks) or belonging to English heritage (see news item in French of 8/9/04), from Canova’s Three Graces to the Cipriani bronzes (see news item of 22/10/08). This only goes to confirm its appreciation of works from European museums (see news item in French of 19/7/05). It is hard to understand why this institution is not capable of implementing its own acquisitions policy on the art market, rather than looking for purchases only when bearing the approval of other establishments. Those times when the world’s museums trembled at the thought of the Getty’s purchasing power and the timely choices made by its director Burton Fredericksen now seem to have definitely passed and the 25% reduction of its endowment, recently revealed by the Associated Press, will further affect its resources. At the time, the Getty Museum avoided repeat purchases of works in other collections in Los Angeles. In the specific case of Savery, the Norton Simon Museum has owned one since 1972, just as beautiful and important as the new one at the Getty.

The same press statement also announces the purchase of a Rodin drawing, Sphinx (ill. 2), showing a female nude in a landscape with a palm tree, dated 1898-1900, very characteristic of the eroticism in the great sculptor’s graphic works, but of much lesser quality than the Nude in the Water exhibited by Jean-Luc Baroni at the Salon du dessin last April. Further proof of this very traditional taste is reflected in the acquisition in the last two years of three beautiful landscapes which are particularly conventional :

3. Hubert Robert (1733-1808)
Demolition of the Chateau in Meudon, 1806
Oil on canvas - 113 x 146 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

-  Hubert Robert, Demolition of the chateau in Meudon (ill. 3), acquired in 2007 thanks to the funds raised by selling the works donated by Peter and Iselin Moller, Dr. Walter S. Udin and Howard Young [3].

4. Jean-Victor Bertin (1775-1842)
Landscape in Ile-de-France, c. 1810-1813
Oil on canvas - 35.6 x 47.5 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

-  Jean-Victor Bertin, Landscape in Ile-de-France acquired in 2008 (ill. 4).

5. Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867)
Three Trees in Bas Breau (Forest of Fontainebleau), c. 1849-1855
Oil on canvas - 90 x 116 cm
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : J. Paul Getty Museum

-  Theodore Rousseau, Three Trees in Bas Breau (Forest of Fontainebleau), acquired in 2007 (ill. 5).

Version française

Michel de Piles, mardi 30 décembre 2008


[1] The J. Paul Getty Museum already owned three drawings by Roelandt Savery. Several American museums own paintings by Savery, for example, the Detroit Museum acquired a Landscape with a Mine Entrance in 2001.

[2] The National Gallery also exhibits two other paintings by Savery, Orpheus and a Vase of Flowers (the latter on loan from a private collector).

[3] The Getty owned another painting of Hubert Robert,A Ermite Praying in the Ruins of a Roman Temple.

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