Rosenthal quits over Spanish sale of Constable's The Lock

Jul 4, 2012

British masterpiece may disappear from public view after controversial sale to private collector

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LANDSCAPE artist John Constable's The Lock has become one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold, fetching £22.4m at auction at Christie's in London yesterday. The sale is also highly controversial.
The 1824 masterpiece depicting Suffolk rural life is placed equal fourth on the list of most-expensive Old Masters alongside George Stubbs's Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath.  

But as the BBC reports, the Constable's sale by Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza has prompted Sir Norman Rosenthal, one of the European art world's most respected art curators, to resign as a trustee of Madrid's Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in protest.

The baroness called the sale "very painful" but said she was forced to part with the painting because the current economic crisis had left her with "no liquidity".

But there are fears the work could disappear from public view since it has been sold to an anonymous private buyer with no obligation to keep the work on display.

The Lock was bought in 1990 by Carmen's late husband, Dutch-born billionaire Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, for £10.8 million. It became part of a 250-piece collection which has been lent to Spain free-of-charge since 1999, housed in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Rosenthal, who was exhibitions director as the Royal Academy until 2008, where he was responsible for some of its highest profile shows, is furious at the baroness – a one-time Miss Spain known as "Tita" - for putting the Constable up for sale.

The Daily Mail reports that in Rosenthal's strongly worded letter of resignation he suggested the Baroness had no understanding of either art history or art appreciation.

The Baroness protested that she loved what she called 'this fantastic painting' but told the Mail: "I cannot afford to keep the painting."

She said that her wealth had been exaggerated in the press. "I have never had a lot of cash because my business is in paintings," said the Baroness. "The paintings don't give me any money, they just hang on the walls of the museum for free."

But Francesca Von Habsburg, the baroness's stepdaughter and another museum trustee, also expressed disapproval over the sale. "The baroness has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else," she told the Mail on Sunday.

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