New York art museum acquires rare Czech painting

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired the medieval painting of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus by the Master of Vyšší Brod altar in an auction. Though the Czech National Gallery wanted to obtain the painting, its New York rival won the auction, paying €6.2 million.

Before the auction, the estimated price of the painting ranged between 10.2 million korunas (€408,000) and 15.3 million korunas (€612,000). However, after a dramatic bidding war in the auction house in Dijon, France, the final price was more than eight times higher.

“According to the ministry, the price does not correspond to the real value,” said a spokeswoman of the Czech Minister of Culture, explaining why the Czech gallery could not afford to buy the painting. On the other hand, a representative of the Metropolitan Museum told Czech TV that the museum was “ready to go higher if necessary.”

The Czech government discussed the possible purchase of the painting in mid-November, stating that “the painting is of high artistic quality and is in very good condition.”

The artwork, painted with tempera on wooden panel, was for many years with a family in Dijon, which had no idea that the painting inherited for generations was created by one of the most important representatives of Czech Gothic art.

“The owners considered the painting an ordinary decorative panel and wanted to sell it along with other, not very valuable items,” said the art expert Hugues Cortot of the Turquin group, which organized the auction.

The team of experts, including the employees of the Czech National Gallery and the Institute of Art History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, confirmed the authenticity of the artwork painted by the anonymous Czech High Gothic painter called the Master of Vyšší Brod altar.

The anonymous painter’s name originated from his most important work, the nine-panel paintings on the main altar in the Cistercian Monastery in Vyšší Brod. His true name still remains a mystery despite extensive research into the subject. 

The painting depicts Madonna dressed in a blue robe and gold cloak holding baby Jesus, who grasps one of his legs in one hand while pressing Madonna’s thumb with the other hand.

According to experts, such a natural gesture is rare in paintings from the mid-14th century.

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