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The Getty Pays $13.5 Million for Quentin Metsys’ The Madonna of the Cherries

The Madonna of the Cherries disappeared in the 17th century, before reapppearing at a sale in Paris in 1920 displaying several alterations.

At a Christie’s Old Masters auction in London, the J. Paul Getty Museum placed the highest bid for a rediscovered 16th-century painting by the Flemish painter Quentin Metsys, the founder of the Antwerp school.

The Madonna of the Cherries, 1520, cost £10.66 million (US$13.5 million) plus fees to The Getty.

The painting is one of Metsys’s most commemorated works. The Northern Renaissance depiction of a Madonna and child was lost for nearly 250 years before it was rediscovered in the early 20th century, according to Christie’s. The final hammer price fell within its original estimate (before fees) of US$10.2 million to US$15.3 million.

“We felt it was crucial to acquire this painting,” says Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “It is a showstopper.”

The work went through a significant conservation process following a 2015 sale at Christie’s in London for £254,500, restoring it to what is widely considered an “exceptional” original condition. Woolett says that this contributed to Getty’s eagerness to acquire the piece.

This is the second painting by Metsys to enter the Getty Museum collection following the 2018 acquisition of Christ as the Man of Sorrows. The Getty has a small collection of early Flemish paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries, and Woolett says that this era is particularly important to the museum, given its influence and provenance over later periods of art.

“These types of paintings are just not available often, and we’re always vigilant in looking for these opportunities,” she says.

According to Woolett, the Getty organization has an endowment for purchasing art, and purchases of this size must be approved and facilitated by the Getty board of trustees. She declined to offer further details about the group’s buying process.

The Madonna of the Cherries was the second-highest valued piece sold at the auction. The top spot went to Tiziano Vecellio’s 15th/16th-century Rest on the Flight into Egypt, whose provenance included being stolen twice—once by Napoleon, and again in the 1990s. It hadn’t been offered at auction for more than 145 years. The painting sold for nearly US$22.2 million, with fees, on the lower end of a before-fee estimate range between f US$19 million and US$31.8 million.

The Madonna of the Cherries will go on view in the Getty Center’s North Pavilion in the coming weeks, according to the institution.

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