An unnamed Slovakian art dealer, who took a gamble when he acquired a misattributed marble bust that turned out to be by Bernini, has been rewarded with a fortune for his risk-taking after selling the bust depicting Pope Paul V to the Getty Museum.
Now, it has been revealed that the institution paid a staggering $33 million for the statue in a private sale arranged by Sotheby’s.
The trail of the work was lost after 1893 when it was bought by an unknown Viennese collector at auction. The work was presumed destroyed after its disappearance over a time period that included two world wars.
The Austrian paper Der Standard reported that the work eventually turned up in Bratislava, Slovakia, where the heirs of Slovakian painter Ernest Zmeták consigned the misattributed work to auction in 2013. Estimated at €47,000 ($52,000), the marble piece failed to sell.
In September 2014, the bust was offered at auction once again. This time, the unnamed Slovakian art dealer bought the piece at its pre-sale estimate of €24,000 ($26,500).
Johann Kräftner, director of the Liechtenstein Collection, admits that he was offered the work but “courteously declined.” Kräftner explained that he was put off by its inconclusive provenance.
The location of the bust after 1893 cannot be verified. Even the name of the Viennese collector who bought the Bernini bust in 1917 is uncertain. How the work got to Bratislava is also unknown.
Yet the Bernini attribution netted the art dealer a superb profit margin, and earned the Getty a new masterpiece.
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