With the L.A. County Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary going down this month, it seems like it’s been all LACMA, all the time, around here. One of the more curious stories that emerged in all of the reporting came from cultural critic William Poundstone, who writes the blog Los Angeles County Museum on Fire.
On Monday, he published a story that asked a very good question: What ever happened to an early 19th century canvas by Francisco de Goya in the museum’s permanent collection? The piece, titled “The Marquesa of Santa Cruz as a Muse,” had appeared in numerous early articles about the museum, along with various vintage photographs, which show gala-bedecked patrons chit-chatting before the canvas. But then, at some point in the LACMA chronology, all references to the painting vanish.
Poundstone and the museum have done a little digging and have turned up the painting’s whereabouts: It was part of a trove of artworks that the Philippine government seized from former First Lady Imelda Marcos back in 2014. That’d be Imelda, wife of a dictator, proprietress of an extravagant shoe collection. Cue the jaw drop.
It turns out that LACMA deaccessioned the piece in 1978 over questions about its quality. (The Prado Museum in Spain reportedly has a better version of the piece.) At that point, the work was sold to dealers at Marlborough in London. It was only in the mid-1980s that the museum got wind that it had gone to Marcos.
The painting was then seized by the Philippine government last year, since it (and others) were allegedly purchased with stolen government funds. One can only imagine where it is now. (Police warehouse? Home of a well-connected government bureaucrat? Anyplace but a museum?)
The story is befuddling. Why would LACMA get rid of a Goya -- even an inferior one? It is also telling -- about the sometimes unsavory business of art dealing. (If there was ever a meeting between Her Shoeness and some bespoke-suited art dealer, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for it.)
Poundstone tracks the entire history of the sale -- and he’s got some images of Marcos with the work. Be sure to click through for a terrific read.
And for another LACMA lost-and-found tale, read Christopher Knight’s stories on Norbert Kricke’s “Space Sculpture,” the one-time centerpiece of LACMA’s main plaza that went missing during construction of the building that now houses the Art of the Americas galleries and then seemed to have turned up in Stuttgart, Germany.