Dealer Richard Feigen has once again used the imprimatur of the Metropolitan Museum to add luster to a work transferred from the Met’s galleries to an auction house’s premises. It now appears that Danaë’s golden sojourn at the Met was an extended presale exhibition.
When it opened its expanded and revamped European paintings galleries in 2013, the Met announced that “a number of special loans from private collectors will be on view for the next six months to a year, filling gaps [emphasis added] in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.”
First on the list of 13 gap-filling, privately owned works in the reinstalled galleries’ inaugural hang, as detailed in the Met’s press release, was Orazio Gentileschi‘s sumptuous standout, deemed “spectacular” in the announcement.
A Met spokesperson told me, while showing off the new galleries, that it was the museum’s fond hope that this seeding of stellar loans among its own holdings might eventually take root as permanent gifts.
No such luck with “Danaë.”
Veteran dealer Richard Feigen‘s family trust was outed yesterday by the Wall Street Journal‘s Jennifer Smith as the owner cryptically identified on the Met’s “Danaë” label as “private collection.” The trust stands to reap rich rewards from gilt-by-association: Sotheby’s has announced that “Danaë” will be the star lot of its evening sale on Jan. 28, bearing a presale estimate of $25-35 million.
Here’s the Met’s rapturous description that had accompanied Feigen’s recumbent beauty who was carried off only last week, according to Smith’s report:
Who needs auction-house hype when the nation’s preeminent art museum has extolled your consignment as “an extraordinary tour de force”?
“Danaë” had played the field more widely, having previously reclined at the Yale University Art Gallery in its 2010 show of Italian Paintings From the Richard L. Feigen Collection. (Feigen received his B.A. at Yale in 1952.)
Does a dealer/collector have a right to show works in a nonprofit museum’s galleries before dispatching them to auction? Of course.
Should museums allow themselves to be commercially exploited in his manner? Of course not.
Loan agreements should contain a clause imposing a several-year moratorium on selling a work after its museum exhibition. Otherwise, museums may appear to be complicit in market maneuvers and curators may see their scholarly prose instantly recycled as sales pitches.