Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 159



156
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
Selling Botticelli to America: Colnaghi, Bernard Berenson and the sale of the Madonna of the Eucharist to Isabella Stewart Gardner
A day before your last note reached me, I
possess… they would send a man to take the
If only you had spoken before! It really is
received a letter from Colnaghi’s (saying):
picture from Paris, bring it back, and insure
important to exhibit the Chigi Botticelli.
“Have you read all the reports re the trial of
it, of course at any figure you would like for
It will be a feather in Colnaghi’s cap, but
Poor Chigi? There have been a great many
the time it was in their charge. It would be an
what is important is to make perfectly
notices – accurate as well as fantastic – in the
immense card for them.
clear before it crosses the Atlantic that
66
English press… Do you think Mrs. Gardner
this, and no other, is the Chigi picture.
would consent to let us exhibit the picture for
“The truth,” concluded Berenson flatteringly, “is
The really propitious moment for
a week or a fortnight… in her name if she
that the picture has excited the whole civilized world,
exhibiting it would have been a month
likes, or without any name as she pleases?
and the press of every great town has attributed its
ago. Now it is perfectly useless because
Nobody seems to know where it is… if people
possession to one of their own local collectors.” But
there is not a cat left in London… But if
ask if it is in America, we say No naturally,
for the time being Berenson’s eloquence fell on deaf
you could let Colnaghi’s have the picture
so nobody is able to make head or tail of it.”
ears. Not one to be defeated, Berenson wrote again
toward the end of Sept. for three or four
to Gardner in early December 1900, pointing out that,
weeks, people would be back, and the
since his last letter:
effect we desire would be produced. Of
Knowing how little you would be inclined to
157
67
68
favour Colnaghi’s, I was going to say nothing of
course, it will not cost you a penny.73
their request to you, but I quote it as furnishing
Yerkes [The American collector, Charles
a complete answer to your question… would
Tyson Yerkes] has bought from Agnew’s for
It was eventually agreed that the picture would be
you really not relent to them, and do what to
£10,000 a wretched but old copy after the
exhibited at Colnaghi in November with Berenson
them would be a great favour? They deserve
Chigi Madonna. So there is one for America.
suggesting that it should be on show for a whole month,
it richly. Without them, my best efforts would
But please have no fears that any serious
because “a fortnight is certainly not long enough
not have brought you half the things you now
person will ever mistake it for the original…
for everybody concerned to hear of it and see it…
Or if you have any nervousness on that subject
exhibited at all.”74 Gardner was happy to agree to this,
do allow the Colnaghis to exhibit yours. This
even if there were to be some further complications
would settle the business for ever – and might
getting the picture from Paris to London.75
have the further effect of discouraging our
over-zealous countrymen from buying pictures
When the picture eventually emerged from hiding
without first making sure that they were what
Some time ago you spoke to me about
and was put on exhibition at Colnaghi (fig. 19) it
they were given out to be.
Colnaghi or someone exhibiting… my
caused a sensation. Parallels were drawn between the
Botticelli Madonna (The Chigi). If you think
disappearing Botticelli Madonna and another famous
well of it, I should like to have it done now,
lady whose disappearance and reappearance had
before it is sent to me… I agree with you that
recently been a cause celèbre: Gainsborough’s Portrait of
On 6 March 1901 when the lengthy Chigi appeals
perhaps it would be a good way of settling in
Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire (fig. 20) which had been
process finally reached its successful conclusion,
the public mind the ownership of this much
stolen from Agnews and recovered around this time.76
Edmund Deprez wrote to congratulate the prince,70
talked of picture. Of course, I don’t want an
Both pictures were exhibited in the respective London
expressing the hope that the Italian government might
exhibition that would cost money to me. But
galleries in November of 1901. The Times observed on 4
I fancy that could not possibly be, in view of
November, alluding to Edmund Deprez’s disappearance
Colnaghi’s fortune made out of me! If you
with the painting, that “when a beautiful woman has
think well of the exhibition, please write to
made a runaway match, and when the law has been
69
However, this request was also unsuccessful.
modify and make more reasonable the regulations on
the sale and export of works of art, adding that he
regretted that the prince did not have another Botticelli,
but hoped that the prince would bear Colnaghi in mind
if he ever thought of parting with other pictures.
71
Subsequently, in late July 1901, Mrs Gardner finally
relented, writing to Berenson to inform him that she would,
after all, allow her picture to be exhibited in London:
Fig. 19 / Front cover of
the catalogue of the 1901
Colnaghi exhibition of the
Chigi Botticelli.
Fig. 20 / Thomas
Gainsborough, Georgiana,
Duchess of Devonshire,
ca. 1785-1787, oil on
canvas, 101.5 x 127 cm,
The Devonshire Collection,
Chatsworth, The Devonshire
Collection..
Fernand Robert, 30 rue Joubert, Paris, with
noisily invoked to visit everybody concerned with
directions for sending the picture to London.
72
the pains and penalties, the scandal attracts for the
moment more notice than her beauty. So it is with this
What prompted this change of heart is unclear, but the
picture.” From 1-15 November the painting was shown
timing was unfortunate, because in late July no one was
at Colnaghi in a charity exhibition on behalf of the
in London. Berenson replied:
Prince of Wales’s Hospital Trust.

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