Friday, July 15, 2011

von Hessen family sells Holbein Madonna for $70 million

The head of the princely house of Hesse has sold its most valuable piece of artwork, the Holbein Madonna.  The painting was sold to German collector Reinhold Würth.

  Hereditary Prince Donatus of Hesse, who heads the family's foundation, spoke recently with a reporter from the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

The reporter asks:  "How are you today?"    The Prince said he was feeling "ambivalent.  On the one hand, I am emotionally attached to the painting, on the other hand, I'm relieved because the sale is good for the future of the Hessian House Foundation."

The Prince said he considered visiting the painting, which had been on display at the Städel in Frankfurt, but he changed his mind earlier in the day because he knew people at the museum "and that would not have been right."  He also said his father, Moritz, the Landgrave of Hesse, was very fond of the Madonna.

Prince Donatus said his father had been involved in the rescue of the painting.  "The picture was moved during the Second World War, before the destruction of the castle in Darmstadt.  In December 1945, my father brought it back from the Veste Coburg.  The American trust that transported the painting caught fire. but my father was able to extinguish the fire, and the painting was saved."

The Prince's earliest memory of the painting was when he was fifteen.  "I grew up in Schleswig-Holstein,  and when we visited our aunt Princess Margaret [of Hesse and By Rhine], she took us to the Castle Museum in Darmstadt, showed us the picture, and explained its history.  This was a very memorable experience because you realized how much my aunt cared for this painting."

The prince was not involved in the negotiations for the sale of the painting.  The family foundation includes the prince and his three younger siblings, Princess Mafalda, Princess Elena, and Prince Philipp.

The four children received 57% from the sale of the painting.  The remaining 45% will go to the Hessian House Foundation, which controls Schloss Fasanerie, the gardens, the Schlosshotel Kronberg and the "Hessicher Hof."   Prince Donatus said the money will be put in a newly established charitable foundation and will help with the restoration of Schloss Fasanerie, near Fulda.

Schloss Fasanerie is currently under renovation?   

The prince responded: "Yes, with assistance from the federal and state governments.  Schloss Fasanerie was declared a national cultural moment.  The Fasanerie is a real gem, so I'm happy that the bottom line will be helped by the sale of the painting.  The money now gives us the opportunity to make Fasanerie truly sustainable."

In 2003, the Hesse family allowed the painting to be placed on a long-term loan in the Städel.

A group of American soldiers, who specialized in returning artworks to their rightful owners after the war, were involved with bringing the Holbein Madonna back to Darmstadt.  One of the soldiers involved in the rescue was Clyde Kenneth Harris of Amarillo, Texas.  It was in Darmstadt where he met his future wife, Princess Cecilie of Prussia, who was staying with Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret of Hesse at their home, Schloss Wolfsgarten, in Langen. 

The sale was negotiated by Count Christoph Douglas.   Although the final purchase price was not made public, it is believed that the oil painting by Hans Holbein the Younger sold for more than $70 million.  The Städel museum's offer of $57 million was rejected. 

Reinhold Würth is a billionaire whose fortune comes from the manufacturer of "screws and other industrial hardware.

Count Christoph told Bloomberg news that this was "the most important painting sold in Germany since World War II.  I had other willing buyers but they wanted to take it out of Germany, which wasn't allowed.  I could probably have sold it for more than 100 million euros if it wasn't barred from export."

The 1525-8 oil painting is titled "The Madonna with the Family Meyer."  It was painted on commission for Jakob Meyer, mayor of Basel.  The Meyer family owned the painting for almost 100 years.

"It is the transition from the wonderful German late Gothic to the Renaissance," said Count Christoph.  "When you stand in front of it you see how mystical, wonderful it was."

Mr. Würth "pledged to keep the painting on public view."  He said that the Städel Museum in Frankfurt and the Landesmuseum in Darmstadt "will be the preferred borrowers of the artwork."

No comments: