A Forgotten Bust Found Propping Up a Storage Shed Could Net $3 Million for a Tiny Scottish Town
The auction record for a Bouchardon bust was set in 2012 by the Louvre.
A 18th-century bust created by artist Edmé Bouchardon, who served sculptor to French King Louis XV, and was later bought by a Scottish local government for just a few pounds may soon be sold for millions to benefit public programs—but not before the public has had its say.
Scotland’s Highland Council will allow members of the local community to voice their opinion on the fate of the multimillion-dollar bust, currently held by the Invergordon Common Good Fund. The port town in eastern Scotland has a population of fewer than 4,000.
In 1930, Invergordon Town Council spent £5, roughly $500 today, on a marble sculpture of Sir John Gordon, an 18th-century Scottish landowner and political figure, by the French artist Bouchardon.
Sotheby’s, which is acting on behalf of the Council, recently received an offer of more than $3 million for the bust, an amount the auction house believes represents close to peak value. The record for a Bouchardon bust is €3 million (about $3.2 million), which the Louvre paid at French auctioneer Aguttes for the bust Marquis de Gouvernet in 2012. As part of any deal, the council is requiring that the buyer provide a museum-quality replica.
The bust, along with its paperwork, disappeared during mid-20th century reorganizations of the local government and was thought lost until it was rediscovered in 1998 propping open a shed door in Easter Ross, a rural area in northern Scotland.
The Highland Council proposed selling the bust in 2014, but a Member of Scottish Parliament objected on the grounds that it had been bequeathed to the town and was therefore a community asset that belonged to the Invergordon Common Good Fund. After a period of deliberation, Invergordon Town Council agreed on October 30 to begin a public consultation on the potential sale.
For much of the past 25 years, the bust has been kept in storage at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery due to its value and related security implications. If residents agree to the sale, the council will use the proceeds to strengthen the Common Good Fund, which supports projects that benefit local communities.
“As the bust is a Common Good asset, the Council is required to conduct a public consultation,” Highland Council wrote in a statement. “The sale of the bust has the potential to recover a significant capital receipt.”
Since its rediscovery, the 1728 bust has been celebrated as a strong example of Bouchardon’s early work. In 2017, it was included in “Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment,” a major exhibition organized by the Louvre Museum that also traveled to Los Angeles’s Getty Museum.
Bouchardon was the official sculptor to Louis XV and is considered one of the primary architects of the shift away from Rococo and towards Neoclassical sculpture. Bouchardon carved sculptures for the Palace of Versailles’ gardens and created a towering 17-foot sculpture of Louis XV for the Place de la Concorde that was destroyed during the French Revolution.
The bust was created in Rome while Bouchardon was living there and a young Gordon was passing through as part of his Grand Tour of Europe.
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