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BlogBack: Tom Hoving on the Getty Bronze

Tom Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum when it was considering a joint acquisition with oil mogul J. Paul Getty of the celebrated Greek bronze statue of an athlete, discusses the historical background of the current ownership controversy:

The old man, J. Paul, insisted before he purchased the bronze (to share with the Met in exchange for the Met’s lending the Boscotrecase frescoes the the Getty indefinitely) that the Italian government grant permission in writing [for the two U.S. museums] to acquire and exhibit it.

My negotiations with Artemis and Heinz Herzer [who eventually sold the bronze to the Getty alone] collapsed when Herzer insisted on $4.2 million. Getty wanted to pay $3.9 million. [The Getty Museum paid $3.95 million for the bronze in 1977, after J. Paul Getty’s death.]

I had already informed Artemis and Herzer that the Getty and the Met would not complete the transaction until the full papers were in hand from the proper Italian authorities. All this is in the Getty files.

Jiri Frel [the Getty’s then antiquities curator] pushed for the purchase after Getty’s death, even though he knew of the old man’s demands.

The return of this illicit work of art has nothing to do with legal issues or with how many inches within international waters the bronze was situated in when it was snagged in the nets of the boat, the “Feruccio Ferri.” It has to do with the wishes of the man whose largesse paid for everything at the Getty—including [director Michael] Brand‘s salary, the expenses for the Trust officers and the fees for their platoons of lawyers.

Why can’t the Getty simply respect the donor’s [J. Paul Getty’s] wishes and hand it back to Italy?

an ArtsJournal blog