Museums competed fiercely for acquisitions last year, both at auction and in negotiations with private collectors. Institutions sought to secure classic examples by recognised masters and expand their holdings beyond the canon. Here are our picks of the most important acquisitions of 2016, including a house with Hollywood pedigree, a collection of Latin American Modernism and one of the finest portraits of the English Renaissance.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Orazio Gentileschi’s Danaë
The J. Paul Getty Museum paid a record $30.5m at auction for this Baroque painting of Zeus sneaking into the bedroom of a princess as a shower of gold coins (1621). Another work from the three-part series, Lot and His Daughters (1622), has been in the Getty’s collection since 1988. Their reunion “not only makes art-historical sense but multiplies the visual impact of both works”, says Timothy Potts, the Getty Museum’s director.
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Post-Impressionist art collection
The US collectors Marlene and Spencer Hays pledged around 600 post-Impressionist works by artists including Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Odilon Redon. The gift is the most important a French museum has received from a foreigner since 1945. The Musée d’Orsay has promised to display the entire collection in a dedicated gallery space.
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Fra Angelico’s The Virgin of the Pomegranate
Strengthening its collection of early Renaissance Italian art, the Prado purchased this 15th-century Florentine painting of Christ and the Virgin Mary—one of the last great works by the artist in private hands—from the 19th Duke of Alba de Tormes. The Spanish aristocrat also donated another Renaissance work that the museum recently attributed to Fra Angelico.
Centre Pompidou, Paris
20th-century Russian art
More than 250 works of Russian and Soviet art from the second half of the 20th century were donated by a group of artists and their heirs as well as the Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin and other private collectors. The additions aim to fill the blanks in the Pompidou’s “map of international Conceptualism”, says the museum’s curator Nicolas Liucci-Goutnikov.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Royal Photographic Society collection
In a controversial move, more than 400,000 photographs housed at the National Media Museum (NMM) in Bradford, UK, were transferred to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The collection includes early daguerreotypes as well as albums and cameras, many from the Royal Photographic Society collection. The transfer is said to “create the world’s foremost collection on the art of photography” in London, but local politicians described it as a “cultural rape” of Bradford.
Royal Museums Greenwich, London
Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
This portrait of Elizabeth I (around 1590) was acquired by Royal Museums Greenwich after a £10.3m national fundraising appeal. Painted by an unknown artist to mark England’s victory over the Spanish Armada, the work is considered a masterpiece of the English Renaissance. It is on show in the newly renovated Queen’s House, built on the site of the palace where Elizabeth I was born.
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
Minimal and conceptual art
The Düsseldorf state museums began negotiations to acquire the Dorothee and Konrad Fischer collection in 2009; the half-purchase, half-gift was finally completed this year. The collection of more than 200 works by artists including Dan Flavin, Bruce Nauman and Sol LeWitt will dramatically expand the museums’ holdings of post-war American painting, conceptual art and Minimalism.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
American art bequest
The bequest from the late philanthropist and art collector Daniel W. Dietrich II includes more than 50 works of American art by Cy Twombly, Philip Guston and Agnes Martin, as well as a $10m endowment to support contemporary art programmes. Edward Hopper’s Road and Trees (1962), the first painting by the US artist to enter the collection, complements the museum’s extensive holdings of Hopper’s graphic works.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Latin American art donation
The Museum of Modern Art cemented its position as a leading centre for the study of Latin American art with this gift of 102 Modern works by Brazilian, Venezuelan, Argentinian and Uruguayan artists from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Gustavo Cisneros. The couple also endowed a new research institute at the museum dedicated to Latin American art.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
James Goldstein House
This John Lautner-designed Modernist home near Beverly Hills is the first work of architecture to enter the museum’s collection. The house, owned by the eccentric real estate investor James Goldstein, was featured in the Coen brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Goldstein will donate the estate and its contents as well as a $17m endowment upon his death.