I’ve just spoken with LACMA’s Patrice Marandel on the museum’s erstwhile Goya painting, Portrait of the Marquesa of Santa Cruz. He confirms that LACMA sold the painting in 1978. The capper: At least until late last year, the Marquesa was in the collection of Imelda Marcos.
That’s the former beauty queen who married Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and became a famous collector of shoes—and art.
The photo above, by Steve Tirona, may be a better picture than the downgraded Goya. The throne. The chihuahua. The bullet hole in the mirror. Though the kitsch was staged—to promote an online store started by Imelda’s fashion-model grandson, no less—the off-kilter Marquesa is the same one that once hung at LACMA. It’s a bizarre end to the story of the painting that was considered LACMA’s most important when the museum opened 50 years ago.
Marandel did some research on the painting’s history and supplies this chronology (it involves many of LACMA’s early boldface names). Founding director Richard “Ric” F. Brown had followed the Duke of Wellington’s Goya Marquesa for some time, as it was apparently one of the last great Old Masters not in a museum. When he learned it was for sale, in 1957, Brown informed the museum board and urged them to buy it. The price was $350,000. Acting on behalf of the museum, Norton Simon negotiated the price down to $270,000. The purchase was endorsed not only by Simon but by many connoisseurs elsewhere, among them Theodore Rousseau of the Metropolitan Museum, Seymour Slive of Harvard, and William Suhr.
Time magazine ran a glowing feature on the buy in Feb. 1958. But two months later, on Apr. 13, the Los Angeles Times‘ art critic Arthur Millier wrote a piece dismissing the purchase.
Brown wrote a three-page rebuttal. It’s in the museum archives, though it may not have been published.
Millier was a critic, not a Goya expert. But Goya specialists Jose Lopez-Rey and Italo Faldi agreed. It “has nothing to do with Goya,” objected Lopez-Rey. He and Faldi believed it was a copy and not even Spanish. Both suspected it was by an 18th-century French painter.
Over the next decade, critical opinion turned against the painting, and by 1972, the LACMA board was talking of selling it. LACMA European art curator Charles Millard sought opinions. They were discouraging. Even the Duke of Wellington, who sold the picture to the museum, admitted it was not one of his favorites.
In late February 1973, the Duke paid an unannounced visit to LACMA. A receptionist described him as “quite distinguished.” The Wellington Goya was no longer on view, however. Millard wrote that they hoped to have it back on view in a month or so.
In December 1973 conservator Ben Johnson (like Arthur Millier, not to be confused with a similarly named playwright) wrote Millard that LACMA director Ken Donahue “has mentioned… a couple of times that the Board is anxious to dispose of the Goya.”
The final straw was the museum learning of the version that would be offered to the Getty in 1983. In 1974 it was in the Felix Valdes collection, Bilbao. Millard asked for photos of the Bilbao painting, and the comparison seems to have settled the matter.
Marandel agrees. When you look at both, he says, it’s evident that the Bilbao version (now in the Prado) is superior.
In late 1977 London dealer Marlborough told LACMA it had a buyer for its Goya, at $750,000. Peter Fusco so informed Ken Donahue. But Pratapaditya Pal, the curator of South Asian art, asked, “My only question is why should a dealer pay that much for a painting that is not by Goya? If it is by him, then why do we want to get rid of it?”
The painting was shipped to London. Marlborough reported, however, that it had been unable to find a museum buyer. It offered only $350,000 for the painting.
Edward Carter, the great collector of Dutch art, advised the museum to accept that price. It did in early 1978.
In 1986 the Getty Museum’s Myron Laskin informed Scott Schaefer (of LACMA, later of the Getty) that LACMA’s so-called Goya was in the collection of Imelda Marcos.
Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in February 1986. Philippine authorities took possession of what assets could be found, including Imelda’s trove of 2700 pairs of high-fashion shoes. She had also assembled a collection of sketchy paintings attributed to big Western names: Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, El Greco, Velázquez, van Gogh, Picasso, etc., etc. Needless to say, those rich attributions drew raised eyebrows. The Frick Collection’s Everett Fahy called them “outrageous.”Many of the works had been purchased, for bargain prices, from the New York gallery of LACMA board member Armand Hammer. The works were intended for the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Imelda spoke of building a world-class encyclopedic collection for the Philippine public, but it seems that most of the art purchased for it ended up in her private residences.
”She’d come and pick things up whenever she wanted, even in the middle of the night,” said Metropolitan Museum of Manila director (and artist) Arturo Luz. ”There was no accounting, no questions asked.”
Where is the ex-LACMA ex-Goya Marquesa now?
A September 30, 2014 BBC story said that another cache of Marcos artworks were ordered to be seized by Philippine authorities. It names “Francisco de Goya’s portrait of the Marquesa de Santa Cruz” among them—along with “Pierre Bonnard’s La Baignade Au Grand Temps, Vase of Red Chrysanthemums by Bernard Buffet, Joan Miro’s L’Aube, and one of Camille Pissarro’s Jardin de Kew series. Mrs Marcos is said to be a keen art collector, and her lawyer said that the court order and seizure were ‘highly questionable’ and there would be an appeal.”
P.S. About Steve Tirona’s photo at top of the post: Imelda’s daughter, Imee, commissioned Tirona to shoot some images of Imelda to promote a line of fashion accessories created by her son, Martin. Tirona produced a series of five images, dated 2009. “I was intimidated when I first started shooting her,” Tirona said. “But then I was surprised at how comfortable it was.… She told me, ‘People called my husband a dictator, but the real dictator here is the photographer, telling me to do this, do that.’”
Below, another view of the Goya over the couch, taken by Gunther Deichmann at Imelda’s Manila home, May 2007. The Marquesa’s neighbor seems to be a portrait of Imelda herself.
Tags: Arthur Millier, Arturo Luz, Edward Carter, Getty Museum, Goya, Imelda Marcos, J. Patrice Marandel, LACMA, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Myron Laskin, Norton Simon, Pratapaditya Pal, Scott Schaefer, Steve Tirona
William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire
“I like the modern. I like the abstract. I like them because they get me to thinking. You know, sometimes I do not understand them. But I like things that I do not understand because they make me more curious. I do not claim to be a technician or scientist in the arts. But, as I always say, when I like something I like it even though I have no reasons for it. Just like friends. There are friends you like without knowing the reason. There are paintings you like but you don’t know why. There are paintings that are exciting, very exciting, and there are paintings that are very tiresome.”
Above, a 2007 Gunther Deichmann photograph of Imelda Marcos’ Manila home, showing Bernard Buffet’s Vase with Orange Chrysanthemums alongside photos of the Marcoses with Mao, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro.