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A painting believed to be a masterpiece by the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum at Christie’s in London (2 July) for £10.6m with fees (estimate £8m-£12m). The work, The Madonna of the Cherries, dates from the 1520s and shows the Virgin and Child embracing as she holds cherries in her right hand.

According to Christie’s, the The Madonna of the Cherries disappeared in the 17th century, reappearing at a sale in Paris in 1920 but with several additions, notably a translucent green curtain drawn across the window and landscape. “With this overpainting and a thick layer of discoloured varnish, the work was offered for sale at Christie’s [London] in 2015,” a statement says. For that sale, the painting was attributed to Metsys’s studio and sold for just £254,500 (estimate £60,000-£80,000).

The statement explains that “it was only after the transformative subsequent conservation that [unnamed] scholars were able to recognise the work as the prime version of Metsys’s masterpiece”.

The Getty says in a statement that “the 16th-century painting’s recent rediscovery offered [us] an opportunity to acquire one of the most significant paintings of the Flemish Renaissance to appear on the market in decades”.

Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum, adds in a statement: “This painting represents Metsys’ distinct personal style derived from his absorption of Netherlandish visual traditions and keen appreciation of significant Italian artistic developments.” The painting will go on view in the Getty Center’s North Pavilion in Los Angeles the next few weeks.

The Madonna of the Cherries was initially owned by the Antwerp spice merchant Cornelis van der Geest in 1615 when Archduke Albert VII of Austria and Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia visited him and offered to buy the painting. In 1628, it was depicted in William van Haecht’s’s work The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest.

Metsys’s previous auction record was achieved for Mary in Prayer at Kunsthaus Lempertz, Cologne, in 2020, which fetched €1.5m with fees (estimate €500,000-€700,000).

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