Metropolitan Museum of Art buys Le Brun Polyxena

The Sacrifice of Polyxena, the 1647 painting by Charles Le Brun that was discovered in the Coco Chanel Suite in Paris’ Ritz Hotel during renovations last year, was bought at auction by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $1,885,194, three times the high estimate. It’s new world record for a Le Brun painting. There are very few museums that have the kind of acquisition budget that will keep them in the bidding when prices get to this level, so it’s extremely fortunate for the public that the Met was in it to win it.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena by Charles Le Brun is without doubt one of the most important paintings by the artist to appear on the art market in recent years. It is a major work by an artist who is not well represented overseas, and I am not surprised that it has been acquired by such a prestigious institution as The Metropolitan Museum of Art whose collection of French 17th century paintings will be greatly enhanced,” said Olivier Lefeuvre, Senior Specialist of Christie’s Old Master Paintings department.

The collection really will be great enhanced. Before Monday’s auction, the Met didn’t own a single painting by Charles Le Brun, which amazes me because I would have thought they’d have at least one of every named master by now. There are several pen and ink and chalk drawings by Le Brun in the Met collection, but none of them are on display. They have six by Nicolas Poussin , First Painter to King Louis XIII, including a spectacular The Abduction of the Sabine Women which is one of two paintings on the subject done by the master. (The other one is in The Louvre.)

Now they’ve filled that major lacuna with a very important early work by Le Brun fresh off his four-year trip to Rome with Poussin, the museum plans to waste no time putting the painting on display. The 17th century French paintings gallery is currently closed for construction, but the Le Brun will be hanging proudly next the Poussins when it reopens at the end of May.

The Ritz’s owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, will donate the proceeds from the sale to the Dodi Fayed International Charitable Foundation, the charity he established in memory of his son who was killed in the car accident that also claimed the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. The foundation is dedicated to supporting children with potentially fatal illnesses and those who live in extreme poverty.

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