Last summer, when the Getty placed the highest bid — $45 million — at London auction, for the rare and beautiful landscape by J.M.W. Turner, many skeptics, including myself, were understandably pessimistic about the chance that this great painting would ever be allowed to leave the shores of England. After all, the British authorities have the legal right to impose a temporary hold on the sale of any great work of art that has been in their country for a long time. In 1994, when the Getty tried to buy Canova's sculpture, The Three Graces, the sale was nullified a few months later when the price was matched by two British museums. And the same thing happened ten years later when in 2004 the Getty placed the winning bid for a small, exquisite Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael, and many of us here held our breath in hopes of greeting the Madonna in our City of Angels. But once again, our British friends succeeded in preventing the great work of art from leaving their country by raising private funds and acquiring it for the National Gallery in London.
However, this time, with a majestic view of Rome painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1838-39, the Getty got lucky. After several months of waiting, it became clear that no private funds could be raised to keep the painting in England and, therefore, expert permission was granted to ship it across the Atlantic. Yesterday, with understandable pride, the Getty unveiled Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino to a group of journalists.
Let me tell you, it is indeed a "wow" painting. The artist traveled to Italy twice, but this shimmering view of Rome from the Capitoline Hill he painted from memory and it's clear as day that he is head over heels in love with the city. What makes this painting especially unique is that it's in pristine condition because, in the past century and half, it changed hands only once and it's always been kept behind glass.
At the Getty, this landscape joins another work by Turner, a stormy seascape painted with particular flair by him a few years later. The museum press release reminds us of the presence of a few more works by this British artist in our museums. One is at LACMA and two are at The Huntington, including my all-time favorite, a view of the Grand Canal in Venice. Jointly, these three museums are in a position to organize a mini blockbuster exhibition that will allow us a rare chance to see all these paintings — plus a few drawings — exhibited side by side. I'm an eternal optimist, so I hope that one day it might happen.
Other good news I am happy to report about is the appealing, and smartly installed exhibition of twelve well-respected L.A. artists at the Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park. Once upon a time, this gallery played a pivotal role in the city's cultural life but, in recent years, somehow, its exhibitions started to attract less and less attention.
With this current show, the Municipal Gallery reclaims its prominent place in the cultural life of L.A. and reminds us about the breadth of talent in our city. From Lita Albuquerque, born in Tunisia in the city of Carthage, to Manfred Muller, a German artist for whom Los Angeles has been home for the last 20 years.
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Banner image: J.M.W. Turner, Modern Rome--Campo Vaccino, 1838-38; Oil on Canvas; Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Trust