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Getty to Sell 31 Italian Old Masters : Art: The works are being sold as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the museum's collection.


The J. Paul Getty Museum plans to sell 31 Italian Old Master paintings from its collection May 21 at Christie's New York. The auction is expected to yield $1.8 million to $2.6 million.

Paris Bordone's "Portrait of a Courtesan," a 16th-Century oil estimated at $200,000-$300,000, is the most highly valued work in the sale. The painting is comparable to two of the artist's better known works, "Lady With a Monkey" in the Thyssen Collection in Lugano and "Young Woman" in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, according to the auction house.

Guillaume Courtois and Abraham Breughel's painting of "Ceres" and "Madonna and Child Enthroned" by Venetian artist Michele Giambono each bear pre-sale estimates of $100,000-$150,000. Other works in the same price range include "Madonna and Child With St. James the Elder and St. Prosdociumus" by Pietro Marescalchi and Pietro Paolini's "Lute Players," which was shown at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with a 1990 exhibition of Caravaggio's painting of lute players.

Getty paintings by Domenico Beccafumi, Benvenuto di Giovanni and Jacobello del Fiore also will go on the block in May.

Many of the works to be offered for sale were bequeathed to the museum by oil baron J. Paul Getty at his death in 1978, but they are being sold as part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the museum's collection. Unlike some financially strapped museums that must sell artworks to buy others--or, in highly controversial situations, to pay operating expenses--the Getty is in the enviable position of pruning its collection in an orderly fashion, gradually improving quality as more desirable works become available.

Christie's expects the sale to excite interest because the Old Masters market has remained strong throughout the recession and the Getty pictures have not been available for several decades. "This is indeed a propitious juncture at which to offer works from such a prestigious institution," said Ian Kennedy, Christie's director of Old Master Collections.

The sum likely to be raised from the upcoming auction is far less than the price of single Italian Old Master paintings purchased by the Getty in recent years, however. The museum paid $11 million for its most recent acquisition, Sebastiano del Piombo's "Portrait of Pope Clement VII," while Pontormo's "Portrait of Cosimo I de' Medici" cost $35.2 million.

Indeed, the museum may apply the auction proceeds to the purchase of Titian's painting, "Venus and Adonis," which was sold at auction last December for a record $13.47 million to a London gallery. Getty curator George Goldner has declared his interest in the painting, but the British government's willingness to grant an export license for the Titian is in question.

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