London’s National Gallery Raises $25.5 Million to Buy Its First Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi’s Father, Orazio Gentileschi

Funds to buy the painting were raised in part through public donations.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Finding of Moses (early 1630s). Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.
Orazio Gentileschi, The Finding of Moses (early 1630s). Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

It took nearly 25 years, but London’s National Gallery has finally acquired Orazio Gentileschi’s masterpiece The Finding of Moses (early 1630s), which has been on display in its galleries for so long that many assumed it was already part of the collection.

Today, the museum announced that it has raised the final £2 million ($2.6 million) needed to purchase the painting, which is worth £22 million ($28.8 million), but is being sold to the museum for a reduced price of £19.5 million ($25.5 million) thanks to a deal arranged with Sotheby’s London and London’s Pyms Gallery.

“This beautiful painting, which has been an important focal point of the National Gallery’s collection for so long, will now remain on permanent display for current and future generations to study, admire, and be inspired by,” culture secretary Nicky Morgan told the Irish News. Only one other work by Orazio Gentileschi is in a public collection in the UK.

The National Gallery first attempted to acquire the painting back in 1995. But when it came up at auction at Sotheby’s London, the museum lost out to sofa billionaire Graham Kirkham, who snapped up the masterpiece for just £43,300 ($66,779), according to the Artnet Price Database.

Children with Orazio Gentileschi's <em>The Finding of Moses</em> (early 1630s), purchased by London's National Gallery with the assistance of donations from the public. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Children with Orazio Gentileschi’s The Finding of Moses (early 1630s), purchased by London’s National Gallery with the assistance of donations from the public. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Gentileschi, who is the father of an even more famous artist, Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, created The Finding of Moses during his 12-year stint as a court painter for King Charles I to honor the birth of the future King Charles II.

“It was the most glorious moment of art patronage in this country when Rubens, Van Dyke, and Orazio Gentileschi, and indeed Artemisia were rubbing shoulders in London at court,” National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi, who was the museum’s Italian paintings curator during the previous purchase attempt, told the Guardian.

With the fall of the British monarchy in 1649, the painting left the royal collection. After the Restoration, the late king’s widow, Henrietta Marie, took it back to her native France, and eventually gave it to a son-in-law, the Duke of Orléans. Much of the Orléans collection was sold in London in 1798, including The Finding of Moses, to Castle Howard in York, England.

National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi and children with Orazio Gentileschi's <em>The Finding of Moses</em> (early 1630s), purchased by London's National Gallery with the assistance of donations from the public. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi and children with Orazio Gentileschi’s The Finding of Moses, purchased by London’s National Gallery with the assistance of donations from the public. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

The Howard family held on to the work for nearly two centuries before it passed to Kirkham, who also sold five of his Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s London in July for £26 million ($34 million). After its purchase, The Finding of Moses traveled to the National Galleries of Scotland and to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles before going on long-term loan to the National Gallery in London in 2002.

The museum’s campaign to purchase the work was announced in November, with funds coming from a variety of sources: £500,000 ($653,000) from gifts willed to the museum; £5 million ($6.53 million) from the National Gallery Trust; £8.5 million ($11.1 million) from the American Friends of the National Gallery; £2.5 million ($3.26 million) from the National Heritage Memorial Fund; £1 million ($1.3 million) from the Art Fund; and the £2 million ($2.6 million) balance from the public.

“From the small gifts of a few pounds to those of many thousands, I am really thrilled that so many people have contributed in the last lap of the campaign to enable us to acquire the painting for the nation,” said Finaldi. “Big donors and little ones have ensured that The Finding of Moses can be enjoyed by all. Our thanks to all of them.”

The museum is planning an exhibition in April of paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi, whose work it acquired for the first time in 2018.


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