Minister’s extravagant $400,000 spend for Preti painting
Gozo minister Anton Refalo purchased a Mattia Preti painting for princley sum, despite Heritage Malta expressing its opinion that it would not have considered purchasing it
27 March 2017, 8:37am
The spend, which includes the delivery to the as-yet unopened Gozo Museum in Rabat, almost totals the entire value of acquisitions by Heritage Malta made since 2014.
The funds for the purchase were however sourced from the Gozo ministry budget.
MaltaToday learnt that the price tag for Preti’s Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream raised eyebrows at both Heritage Malta and the finance ministry, which had to evaluate the necessity and value of the artwork before the purchase.
Paintings were available on the market which were far cheaper than the painting indicated for purchase by the Gozo ministry: Sotheby’s was indeed estimating to sell the painting between $200,000 and $300,000, but ended up selling it to the Gozo ministry for $396,500.
Refalo is himself a collector, but was said to have lobbied uncompromisingly for the painting when initial doubts were expressed on the acquisition.
The bid for the Preti masterpiece, painted in early part of the 1670s, was made over the phone and was purchased through Sotheby’s from a private collection in London.
The purchase is one of the largest single purchases by a Maltese ministry for any one painting. Heritage Malta’s own list of acquisitions since 2014, provided by the authority itself, is of €388,000 alone, and that includes the €75,000 acquisition for the Preti self-portrait last year.
"Considering the price and the number of Pretis already in its collection, Heritage Malta would not have considered its purchase"
In comments to MaltaToday, minister Anton Refalo quoted the advice that Heritage Malta ultimately gave to his ministry, as a justification for the extravagant purchase.
“Considering the price and the number of Pretis already in its collection, Heritage Malta would not have considered its purchase.
“However since this piece is earmarked for the Gozo Museum collection, which does not hold any Preti painting, and keeping in mind also that Preti was extremely important for the development of Baroque art in the Maltese islands, such painting would therefore certainly feature prominently in the Gozo museum storyline.
“And finally that funding is being sourced separately by MGOZ. Heritage Malta does not have any objection with the recommendation of the Acquisitions Committee to try acquiring this painting. In our opinion, the bid should be capped at €350,000.”
Minister Refalo confirmed the painting was eventually purchased for $320,000, which increased to $396,500 when taking into consideration taxes and premiums. The minister also said the delivery and insurance would cost an additional $4,711.
The minister for justice and culture, Owen Bonnici, confirmed when asked by MaltaToday that the Gozo museum was part of the brief under Heritage Malta. He had not been involved in any decision on the purchase of the Mattia Preti but he knew that Heritage Malta had confirmed the authenticity of the painting and was consulted on the bid.
He also said that Heritage Malta did not have such funds, so they were covered by funds acquired by the Gozo ministry. He also believed that the painting would serve the Gozo museum well and serve as an attraction.
There were two other paintings by Mattia Preti also for sale at Sotheby’s and far cheaper, MaltaToday found, which included A Cavalry Skirmish estimated between $20,000 and $30,000 and Saint Jerome estimated between $30,000 and $40,000.
The government has already announced plans to centralise all museums in Gozo and site them in the former Ninu Cremona secondary school in Victoria. The new museum, which still has not been designed and tendered for, will host all the Gozitan museums under one roof.
Sotheby’s described the Preti painting acquired by Refalo’s ministry as a broadly painted work which has been restored and should be hung in its current state. The canvas has a recent lining applied with glue. Under ultraviolet light, Sotheby’s say that one can see retouching in the darker colors of the ghostly figure in the centre. The remaining faces are in good condition, showing only a few spots of retouching. The painting, an oil on canvas, is 153cm by 196cm, has been exhibited in Torino and Taverna, Italy.
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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