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Open letter Financial Times

Missing out on iconic masterpieces leaves the Getty less than the ‘superstar repository’ it ought to be
By George Kremer
Published: August 27 2005

From Mr George Kremer.

Sir,

If the J. Paul Getty Museum today needs money from donors (“New Getty chief to seek donors”, August 20), surely this is a prime example of the curse of having too much money to start with.

As the richest museum in the world, the Getty was uniquely positioned to become a “superstar repository”. That it has not achieved this status is due to a combination of spending money unwisely, having too many activities/collecting fields and, most importantly, not purchasing the iconic masterpieces it should have acquired.

Why would a small museum such as the Mauritshuis in The Hague be so much more successful? Over the past 10 years or so, as one of the prime museums in the world for Dutch 17th century art and definitely a “superstar repository” in this field, it was able to acquire such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s Old Man, Rubens’s portrait pendants, the Westminster Hobbema and De Heem’s Still-Life with Flowers. All in all, some 30 important works were acquired in this period. And guess what? The Mauritshuis in the past never had an endowment fund!

Other examples abound of masterpieces that the Getty could have acquired in the past 10 years but did not: the Honthorst (Mocking of Christ) and Sweerts (The Plague in an Ancient City) now across town in the Los Angeles County Museum, the Hals portrait now in Cleveland, Rembrandt’s portrait of an old lady of 1632 (one of the very best portraits by the master of this period), an important Ruisdael landscape of Bentheim Castle (just auctioned in London for around $5m), Jan Steen’s The Burgomaster of Delft and his Daughter acquired by the Rijksmuseum, and so on. The list of missed opportunities in this collecting field alone is very long indeed.

Although one needs money to buy these masterpieces, every single work mentioned above was bought for very substantially less than Picasso’s Boy with a Pipe. In fact, all the above masterpieces – except for the Rembrandt 1632 portrait – could have been bought for far less money in total than the $104m paid for the Picasso. It seems to me that buying the Picasso at this price is not necessarily a smart thing to do for any museum in the world, even if you are the Getty.

George Kremer,

Amsterdam, Netherlands