Christie's releases Chagall piece back to National Gallery

The National Gallery of Canada has reached an agreement with Christie's auction house to return a Marc Chagall painting to the gallery.

La Tour Eiffel had been put up for auction in controversial move

Christie’s was scheduled to offer Marc Chagall’s La Tour Eiffel as a highlight of its May 15 sale of impressionist and modern art in New York City, but the auction house has released the painting back to the National Gallery of Canada. (National Gallery of Canada/Christie's)

The National Gallery of Canada has avoided a potentially hefty penalty for taking a Marc Chagall painting off the auction block, thanks to an anonymous donor. 

A spokesperson said Thursday the gallery would not be penalized after a financial agreement had been made between a "generous donor" who has asked for anonymity and non-disclosure of the amount. 

The gallery had put La Tour Eiffel up for auction to raise funds needed to acquire the Canadian painting Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment by Jacques-Louis David.

It was a controversial decision, as the painting was one of only two Chagall oils owned by the gallery. But the gallery had concerns the painting by David would be sold to an international collector and would leave Canada.

But after the Quebec government moved to declare the painting by David a heritage document, it was no longer a risk to leave the country and the gallery decided not to proceed with the sale of the Chagall.

The question remained, however, as to whether the gallery would be penalized for withdrawing the painting from auction. The painting was listed on the auction house's website with an estimated price of between US$6 million and US$9 million.

'Mutually satisfactory' agreement

In a joint statement released Thursday, the gallery and the auction house, Christie's, described the deal as as a "mutually satisfactory" agreement.

"We are now working together on next steps to return the painting to the gallery. Both parties look forward to continuing their long-standing relationship."