Getty Museum Snaps Up a Quentin Metsys Masterpiece for a Record-Smashing Sum

The museum paid more than $13 million for the painting at Christie's Old Masters sale.

Quentin Metsys, The Madonna of the Cherries, after conservation. Courtesy Christie’s.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles snapped up Quentin Metsys’s rediscovered 16th-century masterpiece Madonna of the Cherries at Christie’s London at the Old Masters sale on July 2. The panel painting set a new auction record for the Flemish Renaissance artist, selling for £10.66 million ($13.46 million), squarely in the middle of the £8 million–12 million ($10.19 million–15.2 million) presale estimate.

The previous auction high for Metsys, considered the leading painter of early 16th-century Antwerp, was set in 2020 with the $1.9 million sale of Mary in Prayer at Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne. Madonna of the Cherries is one of the artist’s most well-known works, with four other variants having come to auction this century.

“Painted at the height of his career, and preserved today in excellent condition, Madonna of the Cherries is among Metsys’s most appealing and influential compositions,” Getty director Timothy Potts said in a statement. “Acknowledged as a masterpiece in its day, the painting became especially famous in the 17th century, after which its whereabouts were lost. I have no doubt that its spiritual and artistic resonance will make it one of the most beloved works in our collection.”

The museum will waste no time in putting the painting on view, having already announced plans to display it at the Getty Center’s North Pavilion in the coming weeks. The museum has one other work by Metsys in its collection, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, acquired in 2018.

Quentin Metsys's Flemish Renaissance painting Christ as the Man of Sorrows, a tightly cropped portrait of Christ, hands bound and shirtless with a blue cape, wearing a crown of thorns and crying against a golden background.

Quentin Metsys, Christ as the Man of Sorrows (ca. 1520–25). Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The Madonna of the Cherries most notably belonged to Cornelis van der Geest, an early 17th-century art collector from Antwerp. But the work fell into obscurity after a 1668 sale and was not seen again until 1920, by which point it was almost unrecognizable thanks to a thick coat of varnish and heavy overpainting.

The painting came to auction at Christie’s London in 2015, identified as the work of Metsys’s studio and fetching just £254,500 ($391,357). It has since been fully restored and, during the conservation process, identified as an autograph work by the artist.

Depicting the Virgin Mary embracing the Christ child and holding up a cherry between her fingers, the painting also includes a still life of grapes and an apple, which symbolizes that Jesus will become a new Adam. The work’s namesake fruit also has a special symbolism, red like the blood of Christ shed in the passion and crucifixion, as well as representing the fruit of heaven.

“This painting represents Metsys’ distinct personal style derived from his absorption of Netherlandish visual traditions and keen appreciation of significant Italian artistic developments,” Anne Woollett, the Getty’s curator of paintings said in a statement. “The impressive sophistication of the subject and extremely high quality of its execution support the conclusion that this panel is the famous Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys.”

The Old Master sale also featured a new auction record for the Italian Renaissance great Titian, with a £17.56 million ($22.178 million) result for the evening’s top lot, Rest on the Flight into Egypt.

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