Gauguin’s Mysterious Water will not go to Lyon

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Pape Moe (Mysterious Water), 1894
Oak - 81.5 x 62 x 5 cm
Private collection
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

17/3/11 – Trésor national (lost) – Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts – Although we sometimes receive information which we could publish well before anyone else, we refrain from doing so in the interest of protecting a museum or historical monument, or because our source provided it under certain conditions. In many cases, alas, the news appears anyway and we give the impression of just following along when in fact we could have been the first to announce the scoop.

This is exactly the case for the Gauguin in Lyon which we mentioned last June (see news item of 24/6/10), stating that the museum wished to purchase it thanks to the Club Saint-Pierre and the Cercle Poussin, which include companies supporting the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The amount demanded by the seller had been raised but he had backed out at the last minute. We had known this for exactly two months but did not talk about it as the museum was still hoping to make the purchase and a premature revelation might have jeopardized the acquisition.
Finally, a few days ago, the local press published the information. We then contacted the museum which, although it did not wish to make a comment, led us to understand that our revelation on a national level before the end of the month of March might place it in an embarrassing situation, but did not explain further. Thus, we once again accepted to withhold the information and wait for a press release from the museum.
But the publication in Le Journal des Arts on 18 March now frees us from our commitment.

The Ministry of Culture is debating whether to sue the seller although this is not likely. Fabrizio Lemme, the well known collector, who is also a lawyer, was consulted, as the seller is Italian and the case would be treated in Italy. According to Mr. Lemme, he is not sure the Lyon museum would win and, in any case, the trial could last several years.
According to Sophie Flouquet, in the article in Le Journal des Arts, some sources at the Ministry have pointed out that the case has been dragged out and proceedings take too long. This perhaps partially explains the situation although this particular affair has not been that slow. However, such cases could be speeded up by allowing companies to contribute money directly to a fund for acquiring national treasures, while benefiting from a tax deduction, without having to reveal the identity of the object in question. Such a procedure would be much more flexible and efficient. If tomorrow the Musée in Lyon were to find a Gauguin work equivalent to the one it just lost (or another important object for its collections), it would have to begin the whole process again from scratch.

Didier Rykner, jeudi 17 mars 2011

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