Debt-Ridden Portugal Will Keep Trove of Joan Miró Paintings Inside the Country

The storied collection could still be sold to local private collectors.

A recreation of the studio of the painter Joan Miro, presented by Gallery Mayoral, on January 19, 2016 in London. Photo Anthony Harvey/Getty Images.

The fate of the Portuguese government’s collection of 85 Joan Miró paintings, which was on the verge of being auctioned off in 2014, has finally been determined. On Monday, Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced that the government had “finally decided to keep the famous collection of Miró works in the city of Porto,” AFP reports.

The 85 Miró pictures, estimated to be worth around €35 million ($39 million), were originally part of the Banco Português de Negócios collection. The bank folded in 2008, with the government then assuming ownership of its holdings.

The decision to keep the paintings in the state’s collection follows a tense period of over two years, which started with the government’s unpopular plans to sell the works at Christie’s London in February 2014. Back then, the announcement sparked massive public protests which resulted in the works being removed from the sale hours before it was slated to take place.


Joan Miro in 1935. Photo Carl Van Vechten via Wikimedia Commons.

The sale of the paintings at Christie’s was then postponed to June 2014, but in April of that year, a Portuguese judge blocked the export of the works “in defense of cultural heritage.”

The long-winded story took an unexpected turn, however, when the decision was overturned by another judge a few months later, in August 2014.

The Portuguese government is nearly $110 billion in debt, and it has sold off about $11 billion in assets. Nevertheless, deciding whether objects of cultural heritage should be among that hoard has sparked fierce debates in the country.

The state’s current decision to keep the works in the country thus comes as a relief of sorts for experts and art lovers. At this stage, however, it is still unclear whether the trove will remain under the state’s custody or be sold to private collectors, who, according to a government official, would have to accept keeping them in Porto.

The paintings are scheduled to go on display for the first time at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, as part of the exhibition “Joan Miró: Materiality and Metamorphosis,” which will run from Saturday until January 28, 2017.

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