OTTAWA — The National Gallery of Canada says a plan to sell a Marc Chagall painting “was not made lightly” and would allow it to buy an Old Master painting key to bolstering its collection of French art.
Director and CEO Marc Mayer says the gallery is pursuing Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical masterpiece, “Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment,” painted in 1779.
The purchase would be funded with proceeds from the sale of “The Eiffel Tower” by Marc Chagall, which is hitting Christie’s auction house in New York on May 15.
That painting, purchased in 1956, is estimated to fetch between US$6 million and US$9 million ($7.5 million to $11.3 million Canadian).
Mayer says the Chagall ended up on the auction block after more than 150 art museums across Canada were first offered the sale, and failed to respond.
He also says the gallery knows of a foreign museum that was “very interested” in purchasing “Saint Jerome,” spurring it to act.
“We then understood that the risk to Canada of losing this national treasure was real, adding urgency to the matter. We began to explore other options, such as selling a high-valuation work of art,” Mayer said Monday in a statement.
He says the gallery’s board of trustees voted in December 2017 to sell the Chagall.
And while the gallery touts several major French works from the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, it says “a glaring exception is an important picture by David.”
“Saint Jerome” has been in Quebec City since about 1917 and was donated to the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec in 1938.
The statement says that over the last decades, its owners entrusted it to the Musee de la civilisation where it remained in storage until the gallery requested its long-term loan for public display in 1995.
The National Gallery of Canada displayed the piece from 1995 to 2013, until the Quebec City museum requested its return.
In July 2016, the Assemblee de fabrique de Notre-Dame de Quebec offered “Saint Jerome” for sale to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Mayer says the Musee de la civilisation has first right of refusal until mid-June 2018, but to his knowledge, has not expressed interest.