John Constable painting ‘The Lock’ sells for $35 million

"The Lock" by John Constable, which recently sold at a London auction for $34 million, had previously hung in Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
(Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press)

An 1824 painting by John Constable sold for 22.4 million pounds, or about $35 million, at a Christie’s auction in London this week. The hefty price tag represents a record for the English artist, but perhaps even more interesting is the family drama behind the high-profile art sale.

The Times’ World Now blog reports that Spain’s Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza was forced to sell “The Lock” due to difficult economic times. The painting had previously hung in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which was founded by the baroness’ late husband, a Swiss industrialist.

The baroness told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that “I need the money -- I really need it. I have no liquidity. Keeping the collection here is costly to me, and I get nothing in return.”


“The Lock” depicts a rural English countryside setting, with a man working a lock of a canal.

The sale has drawn criticism from a member of the baroness’ family as well as a board member of the museum, who resigned in protest, according to a Reuters report. A stepdaughter of the baroness was quoted in the British press saying that her stepmother “has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else.”

Former museum board member Norman Rosenthal was quoted by Reuters as saying in his resignation letter that the sale “represents a moral shame on the part of all those concerned.”

The sale of art from a museum collection, called deaccessioning, is frowned upon by the art world. Some museums have strict rules regarding the sale of art and how the money from those sales can be used.

Thyssen-Bornemisza has stated that the sale of “The Lock” will help the museum financially.


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