Poland pays €100m for Czartoryski art collection

Friday, December 30, 2016

Lady with an Ermine
Image: Leonardo da Vinci.

Poland yesterday announced the purchase of the Czartoryski art collection for about 100million (US$105m; £85m). It is worth an estimated €2billion.

Amongst the roughly 86,000 artworks is Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. Lady with an Ermine alone is thought to be worth more than the government paid for the full collection; it is insured, the government said, for about €330m. Also included are around 250,000 books and other texts.

Adam Karol Czartoryski, representing his family, as head of the Czartoryski Foundation owning the collection, negotiated the sale with the Ministry of Culture. Czartoryski "felt like making a donation" and was entitled to, he said. The Czartoryski Foundation's board resigned in protest. The board said they were not consulted and disapproved of the price.

The current Law and Justice government was reported in national press as prepared to part with up to a billion zloty (US$235 million) to acquire the foundation. Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said "It is a fraction of the market price of the collection".

Law and Justice, who gained power a year ago, had expressed interest in acquiring the works, housed in Krakow and on public display. The government is running a nationalisation programme for cultural items and major companies.

Purchasing the Czartoryski collection required a state budget amendment and, according to the Ministry of Culture, months of talks. The move "ensures the right of the Polish nation to the collection," said Glinski.

The collection was assembled over the course of more than 200 years. It also features Landscape with the Good Samaritan by Rembrandt and works by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Lady with an Ermine, from 1490, is one of four known da Vinci portraits of women. Stolen during Nazi rule, it was recovered and returned. It features Cecilia Gallerani, mistress to Duke of Milan Ludovico 'The White Ermine' Sforza. Sforza's nickname explains the titular creature painted in Gallerani's arms, which was added to the painting by da Vinci; an earlier, painted-over version does not have it.