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Acquisitions of the Month: April 2023

2 May 2023

A round-up of the best works of art that have recently entered public collections

National Portrait Gallery, London, and J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Portrait of Mai (Omai) (c. 1756), Sir Joshua Reynolds

The joint acquisition of Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Mai (Omai) (c. 1756) by the National Portrait Gallery and the J. Paul Getty Museum marks the first time a UK institution has acquired a work of art with an overseas partner. The painting, which depicts a Tahitian man who arrived in Britain with Captain Cook, was placed under export bar by the UK government in March 2022. Since then, the ban has been extended three times to allow the NPG to raise the £50m at which the painting is valued. After receiving significant donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), the Art Fund and private donors, the NPG was able to match the Getty’s contribution of £25m to make up the total cost. The painting will travel between the two countries, starting off in London at the NPG when it reopens on 22 June. It will later be shown at other institutions across the United Kingdom before making its way to the Getty in 2026.

Portrait of Mai (Omai) (c. 1776), Sir Joshua Reynolds. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London

Mauritshuis, The Hague
Vase with a Single Tulip (c. 1625), Balthasar van der Ast

Unlike most still-life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, this painting depicts a single flower rather than a bouquet; it is one of only two known Dutch paintings from the 17th century to show a solitary tulip. The red-and-white colouration of the petals may appear attractive, but these ‘flames’ were, in fact, the telltale sign of a virus that affected many flowers in this period. Also notable is Van der Ast’s subtle inclusion of a butterfly and beetle, thought to represent ideas of renewal and decay.

Vase with a Single Tulip (c. 1625), Balthasar van der Ast. Mauristhuis, the Hague

Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach
Portrait of Mrs. Frederick Guest (Amy Phipps) (1905), John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Amy Phipps Guest, the American philanthropist who sponsored Amelia Earhart’s first transatlantic flight in 1928, has been purchased by the Norton Museum of Art in Florida. Commissioned to mark the marriage of Amy Phipps to Frederick Edward Guest, the five-foot-tall portrait was painted at Sargent’s London studio on Tite Street in Chelsea. A hint of an Italianate landscape can be seen in the background, behind the balustrade, while the free-flowing brushwork – in particular, the bravura dog – reveals Sargent at the height of his powers.

Portrait of Mrs. Frederick Guest (Amy Phipps) (1905), John Singer Sargent. Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach

Dallas Museum of Art
12 contemporary works

Thanks to an acquisition fund supplied by the Dallas Art Fair Foundation, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) was able to purchase 12 contemporary works at the fair on 19 April. The $100,000 grant was predominantly used to purchase works by Dallas-based artists such as Riley Holloway and Nishiki Sugawara-Beda, but there are also new additions by international artists including Interior Flower (2023) by Masamitsu Shigeta.

Records on Repeat (2023), Riley Holloway. Courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C
Flagship (1964), Thomas Sills

The role of Thomas Sills (1914–2000) in Abstract Expressionism has been largely overlooked until recently. Born and raised in Castalia, North Carolina, Sills began painting in 1952, inspired by his wife Jeanne Reynal, a mosaic artist who introduced him to the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. By the mid 1950s, Sills had fully embraced abstraction. The simple three-tone colour palette and mottled, textured surface of Flagship is characteristic of the works of Sills, who used a variety of tools to apply paint.

Flagship (1961), Thomas Sills. National Gallery of Art, Washington