Analysis
Museums

The top ten museum acquisitions of 2017

We look back at some of most important purchases and donations that entered public collections this year

Museum collecting was not immune from global politics this year, with the Brexit referendum complicating one multi-million-pound purchase and women’s anti-Trump marches inspiring another, more modest addition. Major gifts helped to expand the canon, enriching US institutions with Native American and African-American art. And Louvre Abu Dhabi unveiled its fledgling “universal” collection—ten years in the making and still growing, as the headline-grabbing arrival of Leonardo's $450m Salvator Mundi demonstrates. Here we look back at some of the most important acquisitions of 2017.

Pussy Power Hat worn during the Women’s March in Washington Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“Pussyhat” worn at the Women’s March in Washington, DC

Capturing this year’s grassroots movement of female solidarity, the V&A acquired one of the pink knitted hats worn by protesters at the international Women’s March on 21 January, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. The Pussyhat Project was launched in response to a 2005 recording of Trump claiming to “grab [women] by the pussy”. The museum’s example is part of its Rapid Response Collecting programme to acquire design objects that reflect popular culture and political change.

Jessie Pettway’s Bars and String-Pieced Columns (1950s) Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

African-American art of the Deep South

The Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which promotes self-taught African-American artists from the Deep South, distributed works from its collection across the US. In February, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco acquired 62 works by 22 artists, including Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley and Bessie Harvey, in a combined gift and purchase. Other works went to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Ackland Art Museum in North Carolina and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard’s A Dutch Girl at Breakfast Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Jean-Etienne Liotard’s A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (around 1756)

This domestic scene sold for £4.4m (with fees) at Sotheby’s in London in July 2016 and finally arrived at the Rijksmuseum in January, after the UK government granted an export licence. The painting, which pays homage to the Dutch Golden Age, had been in private hands for more than two centuries. The museum is showing the work—one of only around 30 oil paintings by Liotard—alongside its large collection of the Swiss artist’s pastel drawings.

A Yup'ik mask from the Diker collection (around 1900) Dirk Bakker/Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Native American art

The Met announced plans to shake up its American wing by integrating a major gift of Native American art among its displays of colonial portraits and furniture next year. The museum’s long-time patrons Charles and Valerie Diker promised 91 works, dating from the second to the early 20th century, which will join 20 pieces donated by the couple over the past two decades. An exhibition celebrating the Diker collection is due to open in autumn 2018.

Leonardo's Salvator Mundi will go on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi alongside La Belle Ferronnière, a loan from the Louvre in Paris Christie’s Images, 2017

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (around 1500)

Louvre Abu Dhabi has spent the past decade building a collection for the Arab world’s “first universal museum”. Its biggest acquisition to date is undoubtedly Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi (around 1500), which sold for more than $450m at Christie’s in New York on 15 November, one week after the museum opened. After conflicting reports identifying the buyer as a little-known Saudi Arabian prince and then the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, the chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism announced last week that it actually purchased the painting because “we felt that in our lifetime we most likely will not see another da Vinci”. The work is due to go on show at the museum alongside Leonardo’s La Belle Ferronnière (1490), which is on loan from the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Jean Antoine Watteau's La Surprise (around 1718) J. Paul Getty Museum

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Old Master drawings and Watteau’s La Surprise

The Getty announced its largest-ever single purchase in August, comprising 16 Old Master drawings and La Surprise (around 1718), a recently rediscovered painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, estimated to be worth around $100m overall. The collection, believed to have been sold by the British collector Luca Padulli, includes works by artists such as Michelangelo, Andrea del Sarto and Parmigianino. Pending export licences from the UK government for three of the works, an exhibition is planned to open in January.

Diane Arbus, Woman with veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C. Neil Selkirk / Art Gallery of Ontario / Jozef Straus / The Estate of Diane Arbus

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Photographs by Diane Arbus

The Art Gallery of Ontario, which previously owned no works by Diane Arbus, finalised a three-year negotiation to purchase 522 of her prints through the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. The museum’s collection is now second only to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The acquisition includes lesser-known works from the 1950s as well as commissions for magazines like Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar that began in 1960 and continued until her death.

David Bailey’s Box of Pin Ups (1965) The Martin Parr Collection, Tate

Tate, London

Martin Parr’s photobook collection

The Tate partnered with Maja Hoffmann’s Luma Foundation to acquire more than 12,000 photobooks owned by the British photographer Martin Parr in a combined gift and purchase. Assembled over 25 years, the collection includes works by Hans Bellmer and Robert Frank, and represents a range of subjects, geographical regions and photographic practices. The books will go on show in exhibitions at Tate and at the Luma Arles cultural centre, which is due to open in 2018.

Bernardo Bellotto’s The Fortress of Königstein from the North (1756-58) courtesy of the National Gallery, London

National Gallery, London

Bernardo Bellotto's The Fortress of Königstein from the North (1756-58)

The fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit referendum cost London’s National Gallery a major purchase this year. The museum’s matching offer of £30.6m for an export-deferred Pontormo portrait was rejected by its US owner, the hedge fund manager Tom Hill, who argued that it would cause him a $10m loss. But the museum successfully bought Bernardo Bellotto’s The Fortress of Königstein from the North (1756-58), which was also under a temporary export bar, for £11.7m. The price included £670,000 on top of the recommended £11m to compensate for the slump in sterling.

Salomon de Bray’s Study of a Young Woman in Profile (1636) Margareta Svensson/MFA Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dutch and Flemish art collections

The MFA Boston received its biggest-ever gift of European paintings in November. The collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings are the combined holdings of the local collectors Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie. The double donation, including 113 works by 76 artists such as Rembrandt and Rubens, also establishes a centre for Netherlandish art, which is due to open in 2020.