A Gentileschi masterpiece: possibly the most valuable UK museum acquisition in over a decade

A Gentileschi masterpiece: possibly the most valuable UK museum acquisition in over a decade
The Finding of Moses, Orazio Gentileschi, 1630's
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Orazio Gentileschi’s masterpiece The Finding of Moses (1630’s) is possibly being acquired by London’s National Gallery, The Art Newspaper reports. It is currently on display at the museum, as per a loan agreement from an anonymous private collector, who is rumoured to be Graham Kirkham, the billionaire founder of the DFS sofa empire.

The work was sold in 1995 from the mansion of the Howard family in Yorkshire, known as Castle Howard. Kirkham bought it at the time from the Sotheby’s auction for £5m, which was considered a very large amount at the time. There were talks back then that the National Gallery in London had been unsuccessful in buying the work.

Orazio Gentileschi, whose original name is Orazio Lomi, was an Italian Baroque painter and one of the most important painters who came under the influence of Caravaggio. He is better known for being one of the more successful interpreters of Caravaggio’s style. His daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi, trained under him and went on to become an extremely sought after Baroque artist as well. Most recently, the National Gallery acquired a masterpiece by Artemisia Gentileschi for £3.6 million, a record for her work.

The Finding of Moses has enjoyed quite an interesting provenance as it was originally commissioned by Charles I for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, to celebrate the birth of their son, the future Charles II. It hung in the Great Hall of the Queen’s House in Greenwich, depicting the discovery of an infant in a basket by the Pharoah’s daughter. As the monarchy fell, the painting was passed out of the royal collection, but ultimately returned to Henrietta Maria in 1660 and taken to France. It went to Philippe I, the duc d’Orléans and eventually sold (as a Velázquez) at the Orléans sale in London in 1798, when it was purchased for Castle Howard and where it remained for nearly two centuries.

The Finding of Moses, Orazio Gentileschi, 1630’s


Kirkham went on to lending the work to the National Galleries of Scotland, as well as the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In 2002 however, it was offered on a long-term loan to the National Gallery in London, where it is displayed today.

The estimated price for the work has only multiplied since Kirkham purchased it in 1995, as suggested with Gentileschi’s much smaller work, Danae, selling for a record $30m at Sotheby’s three years ago. It is likely that The Finding of Moses, measuring an astounding 3m width, is now worth several tens of millions of pounds.

If the sales is confirmed and ultimately takes place, it will likely be the most valuable UK museum acquisition since the purchase of two Titian paintings of the goddess Diana that were jointly purchased by the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland ten years ago.

Kirkham, who is now 74, has amassed an impressive art collection over the years, most recently having sold five Old Master works at Sotheby’s that fetched over £26 million in total. The works were by Johann Liss, Jusepe de Ribera, Joachim Wtewael, Thomas Gainsborough, and Jean-Étienne Liotard. Despite his sofa business being under administration at the moment, Kirkham is said to be worth around £1.15 billion.