National Gallery Purchased £3.6M Artemisia Gentileschi to Transform ‘Story of Women Artists’, But is it Nazi Loot?

The female Renaissance painter’s ‘Self-Portrait’ has been listed among ‘improperly acquired’ objects during World War II

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London

Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, c.1615–17, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Robilant + Voena, London

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (c.1615–17) is set to go on view at London’s National Gallery this Wednesday 19 December. But the painting by the Renaissance artist, purchased for GBP£3.6 million earlier this year – marking the 21st artwork by a woman to be held in the gallery’s permanent collection of 2,300 Western European paintings – has had concerns raised over its provenance. The painting has been included by the gallery on a watchlist of artworks that may have been ‘improperly acquired’ during World War II.

In Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine, Gentileschi took on the appearance of the 4th-century saint, positioned alongside a spiked wheel (the torture instrument associated with the martyr). Some have read the painting as alluding to the artist’s own rape and subsequent trial during which she was tortured. Gallery trustee Hannah Rothschild commented in July: ‘This picture will help us transform how we collect, exhibit and tell the story of women artists throughout history.’

But now it has come to light that the painting has been included on the National Gallery’s list of works which have an incomplete provenance during the years 1933–45. The seizure or cheap purchase of works owned by Jewish collectors in Nazi-occupied France was common. The gallery’s board meeting minutes, reported in Artnet News, have revealed trustees’s concerns that there is no documentary evidence of how the Boudeville family, who have owned the painting for ‘at least three generations’, initially acquired it.

The National Gallery has said in a statement that it was satisfied with its provenance checking and due diligence prior to the purchase, and that there is ‘strong evidence’ to suggest that the work was owned by the Boudevilles before the war.

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