LONDON, ENGLAND – An important Thirteenth Century masterpiece by the Italian master Cimabue, discovered during preparations for a house contents sale in Suffolk, has been saved for the nation of Great Britain in a sale partly in lieu of tax negotiated by Sotheby’s auction house. The painting will go into the collection at the National Gallery in London.
The painting, on a wooden panel measuring a mere ten by eight inches, had been hanging unrecognized in Benacre Hall, near Lowestoft, Suffolk, seat of the Gooch family, one of the leading families in East Anglia, since the Nineteenth Century. It had been expected to sell for in the region of $15 million in Sotheby’s major summer sale of Old Master Paintings in London on Thursday, July 6.
Major Sir Timothy Gooch, Bt MBE, who instructed Sotheby’s to sell the contents of Benacre, his family home, said he was delighted that the painting had been acquired in this way for the national collection, even though this represented a financial sacrifice on the part of his family. The museum, according to the Associated Press, paid $1.05 million for the work.
“The opportunity in the future to take my grandchildren to the National Gallery and show them the Benacre Madonna and Child, which I hope is how the painting will become to be known, is one to which I greatly look forward,” he said.
Henry Wyndham, the chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said, “The National Gallery is the most fitting home not only because the Cimabue was found in an English house, but also in recognition of the key role played by the National Gallery themselves in identifying its authorship.”
“The Madonna and Child enthroned with Angels” was discovered by Richard Charlton-Jones, a director of the auction firm’sOld Master Paintings department in London.
As a result of the examination and discussions between Charlton-Jones and the National Gallery’s curator of early Italian paintings, Dr Dillian Gordon, it became apparent that the painting came from the same tabernacle as another small panel often attributed to Cimabue in the Frick Collection in New York.
The Benacre painting was taken to New York, where a subsequent side by side comparison in the presence of Dr Gordon and leading American scholars confirmed the attribution. The panel probably originally formed the upper left hand part of a tabernacle depicting scenes from the life of Christ which had been dismantled at some point in its history. It seems likely that the picture was originally acquired in Florence in the early Nineteenth Century by Sir Edward Sherlock Gooch, 6th Bt (died 1856).
Richard Charlton-Jones commented: “This painting is one of only seven or eight independent panel paintings by Cimabue that survive and the only one known in private hands,” commented Charlton-Jones.
Cenni di Pepo, called Cimabue, born circa 1240 – died Pisa before July 1302), was the most important figure in the development of Italian painting in the late Thirteenth Century and is a seminal figure in the history of Western Art. His work drew inspiration from contemporary Byzantine painting as well as from classical and contemporary sculpture, introducing a new style of painting into his native Tuscany which had a profound influence on younger Tuscan artists, most notably Giotto and Duccio.
The picture was acquired for the National Gallery under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme. The sum agreed for the computation of capital tax is £6.5 million, with an additional £700,000 paid by the National Gallery, thanks to the generosity of Sir Paul Getty.
The contents of Benacre Hall, Suffolk, an eclectic collection of furniture, paintings and works of art reflecting the history of 12 generations of the Gooch family, were sold by Sotheby’s in a three-day sale on the premises on may 9 to 11. The sale raised a total of £8.3 million, a record for any country house sale in the UK.