Ottawa

National Gallery will sell Chagall piece even if it doesn't get its replacement

The director of the National Gallery of Canada says he will sell a Marc Chagall painting even if two Quebec museums get the money to purchase the same French painting he's targeting.

Two Quebec museums want to team up and buy Jacques-Louis David painting

Marc Mayer, director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada, says the gallery will go ahead with an auction of Marc Chagall's The Eiffel Tower to make sure they have a bigger acquisitions fund for when important Canadian works come up for sale. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

The director of the National Gallery of Canada says he will sell a Marc Chagall painting even if two Quebec museums get the money to purchase the same French painting he's targeting.

Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment, by Jacques-Louis David. (Musée de la civilisation du Québec)

Gallery director and CEO Marc Mayer revealed earlier this week he wants to purchase Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment, painted in 1779 by Jacques-Louis David.

His gallery has agreed to buy it for $5 million, and to raise the money they're planning to sell Chagall's The Eiffel Tower at an auction next month.

The David painting is owned today by Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, which is looking to sell the work.

They approached Canadian museums and also received interest from international buyers.

The New York auction house handling the sale expects the Chagall to sell for somewhere between $6 million US and $9 million US.

On May 15, Christie’s will offer Marc Chagall’s La Tour Eiffel as a highlight of its evening sale of Impressionist and modern art in New York City. The canvas, from the National Gallery of Canada, is being sold to benefit its acquisitions fund. (National Gallery of Canada/Christie's)

Quebec museums may team up

Quebec City's Musée de la civilisation has the right of first refusal to purchase the David painting and is considering working with the Montreal Museum of Fine Art to buy it.

They have also suggested the National Gallery could partner with them.

Mayer said if those museums get the painting, that's great, but he doesn't want to share it.

"Old master paintings are fragile, they're old. It's not like a child of a divorced couple that is shuttling between two parents," he said. "It is expensive and risky to move these paintings."

If the gallery purchases the work, it will be a "five-minute walk" from Quebec and the most important thing is to keep it in the country, he said.

"We're not taking a piece of Quebec heritage. We're saving a work for Canada that shouldn't leave the country and you're welcome, Montreal."

Marc Mayer says the National Gallery is fighting to ensure David's Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment stays in the country. 0:39

Backup plan: A 'safety net' fund

The National Gallery won't try to outbid the Quebec museums, and even if they're successful, the gallery will still sell the Chagall painting.

"If they feel very passionate that it should stay in Quebec, and they find the means, then we will sell the Chagall," he said.

"Canada [would] finally have a safety net to prevent these kinds of cultural treasures from leaving."

There are more important works in private hands in Canada, and the gallery needs a bigger acquisitions fund because current laws don't prevent sales to international buyers, they only delay them.

"This is not the last time that we're going to be confronted with this," Mayer said. "This gives us a fighting chance the next time this happens."