Why Did the Louvre Abu Dhabi Buy a Portrait of George Washington?

Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington (1822) Photo: Louvre Abu Dhabi

As the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection begins to take shape prior to the museum’s hotly anticipated opening scheduled for December 2015, officials have announced a surprising acquisition.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the institution paid an undisclosed amount to the Los Angeles based Armand Hammer Foundation for an 1822 portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Similar portraits by the artist have sold for about $8 million in the past.

The UAE secured the naming rights for the museum and advisory services from its staff as part of the $490 million cultural exchange agreement from Agence France-Museums in 2007. As part of the deal, the Curatorial Director of Agence France-Museums Jean Francois Charnier has helped build the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection.

Charnier revealed that he sought a major portrait of the first American President to show beside Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps, which has been loaned from the Palace of Versailles. The curator wants to illustrate the rising importance of world leaders that started in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Armand Hammer Foundation subsequently confirmed the sale of the painting. Although the painting changed hands last spring, news of the transaction has only just surfaced. Armand Hammer had bought the painting at auction in 1970 for $205,000.

The Emirate continues to invest heavily in culture. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has already acquired around 300 artworks for its permanent collection, including works by heavyweight painters such as Paul Gauguin. The permanent collection will be supported by 300 pieces on loan from French museums (see Da Vinci, Monet and Manet for Louvre Abu Dhabi).

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