Published: November 5, 2002
The Dahesh Museum Wins Cabanel’s ‘Birth of Venus’ for $834,500
NEW YORK CITY – A rare version of Alexandre Cabanel’s “The Birth of Venus” – the iconic Nineteenth Century painting of Venus emerging from the ocean – sold for $834,500 at Christie’s on October 30, nearly doubling the artist’s previous auction record of $440,000. The Dahesh Museum of Art in New York was the buyer. “The Birth of Venus” was the top lot of Christie’s sales of Nineteenth Century European art, which totaled $11,818,028.
“The Birth of Venus” is one of the most emblematic Nineteenth Century paintings, and its subject inspired numerous masters throughout the centuries, including Botticelli, Ingres and Bouguereau. The version sold at Christie’s is one of only three that were made by Cabanel; the other two have been housed in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for more than 100 years. The consignor of the painting was the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which will use the proceeds to benefit the institution’s American art acquisitions fund.
“Paintings of such renown are rarely seen on the market today, and this is certainly the most important Nineteenth Century painting to come on the market in years,” commented Wendy Goldsmith, Christie’s international specialist head of Nineteenth Century European Art. “Bidding was extremely competitive, as this is the last time we are likely to see this extraordinarily beautiful painting offered for sale. The outstanding price reflects its excellent provenance and superb condition as well.”
Although the present painting was long thought to be the third and final version that Cabanel completed, research conducted by Christie’s revealed that it in fact dates to circa 1865-69, prior to the version given to the Metropolitan Museum by Catherine Lorillard Wolfe in 1893. That version dates from 1875, while the version acquired by Napoleon III and now in the Musée d’Orsay was executed in 1863. The present painting was given to the Pennsylvania Academy in 1892 by Henry C. Gibson, a Philadelphia art collector and banker who was assumed to be the first owner. In fact, Gibson purchased the painting in January 1871 at the sale of the collection of H.W. Derby, another American art collector. Advertisements of the auction in two New York newspapers featured the Cabanel, confirming that the painting must have been completed prior to 1870.
Another major work from the Pennsylvania Academy, Mariano José Fortuny y Carbo’s “The Council House, Granada,” sold for $273,500 to the Junta de Andalucia in Spain.
Rounding out the top three lots in the sale was John Atkinson Grimshaw’s (British, 1836-1893) “Spirit of Night,” 1879, fetching a world auction record for the artist at $537,500, and Eugene de Blaas’s (Austrian, 1843-1931), “Gossiping at the Well,” 1907, which sold to the European trade for $394,500.
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