The case of Chagall’s sale by the National Gallery of Canada

AICA-Canada (International Association of Art Critics, Canada section) deplores the sale of Marc Chagall’s La tour Eiffel (1927; purchased 1956) from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). That the loss of this fine and popular work to public view (though recently, seldom displayed), would be deaccessioned simply to fund the acquisition of an early work by Jacques-Louis David (1748 –1825), Saint Jérôme entendant les trompettes du Jugement dernier is most unfortunate and contrary to Canadian Museums Association principles and guidelines. And in recent weeks the public comment and outcry has increased measurably.

See, on which you will find most of the links related this case, including to Canadian Arts, the Globe & Mail and Le Devoir.. The Québec Ministry of Cultural Affairs has recently been asked to recognize the David painting as Quebec National Heritage, which would make it impossible to leave Quebec, even for Ottawa, and certainly not for another country. Mr Mayer’s argument for saving the David painting from export was simply not applicable. The argument that the NGC is binging now that it would be use to establish a safety fund to purchase other national heritage art works a that may be at risk to be exported in the future does not stand either.

It is our understanding that La tour Eiffel is presently on display in Hong Kong, presumably to entice bidders for the eventual sale of the work at Christie’s (London) on May 18 2018. Strategically this action makes sense, in that Asian collectors are increasingly active in Old Master and Modern auctions and having the opportunity to view the work “in person” could well encourage increased interest from Asian collectors. Its rightness in view of statements and explanations by NGC director Marc Mayer, is more questionable. Sell one to buy another?

We support the knowledge and expertise of NGC curators, advisors and Board members enabling them to evaluate the museum holdings and to add judiciously to the collection as opportunities arise. We accept that the David painting fills in a perceived gap in the NGC Permanent Collection, but we question the necessity of selling the Chagall when, in fact, other options have arisen (and been dismissed) including joint museum ownership of the work or further long-term loans for particular installations, such as the Caravaggisti exhibiton some years ago in Ottawa.

We especially decry Marc Mayer’s seeming subterfuge, denial and delay, and his apparent single-handed approach in making these decisions. There has been no transparency in the NGC agenda, and public trust in their decisions must be seriously undermined. To halt the sale of La tour Eiffel and withdraw it from auction in May, would cost about $1 million CDN. The David painting may not be available for Ottawa purchase. Then what? Given recent international auction prices the Chagall may fetch far more than the anticipated $8 million, despite Mr Mayer’s dismissal of the painting as of little interest. We object in the strongest terms to a continuation of such National Gallery hauteur and lack of concern for the long term; tastes change with time and losing the Chagall will undoubtedly be much regretted in the future.

AICA-Canada , undersigned by Ninon Gauthier, Departing Presidente, Virgil Hammock, Interim President and Presient Emeritus, Ken Carpenter, Presitent Emeritus, Normand Biron. President Emeritus, Peggy Gale, Vice-president, Earl Miller, Secretary and Treasurer and Nina Csegledy and JeffRey Spalding, members of the board with Edouard Lachapelle and Serge G. Morin, members .


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