Holbein Madonna Sells for at Least $70 Million to Wuerth

Holbein Madonna
“The Madonna With the Family of Mayor Meyer,” painted in 1525-8 by Hans Holbein the Younger, will go on display at Reinhold Wuerth's museum in a 12th-century church in Schwaebisch Hall, from Jan. 20. Source: Britta Fischer Public Relations via Bloomberg

Reinhold Wuerth, a German billionaire who turned a family-owned screw wholesaler into a global company, paid more than $70 million to buy a Holbein painting, beating a bid from the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt.

Wuerth purchased the painting from the heirs of the princes and landgraves of the state of Hesse, an aristocratic family descended from Charlemagne, according to an e-mailed statement sent today by Britta Fischer Public Relations on behalf of the Wuerth Collection. The Staedel Museum, where the Holbein has hung on loan since 2003, said in a separate statement that its own final offer of 40 million euros ($57 million) was rejected.

Christoph Graf Douglas, the art dealer who negotiated the sale, said the price was more than 50 million euros, the highest ever paid for an artwork in Germany. He declined to name the final sum because of an agreement between the buyer and sellers.

“It is the most important painting sold in Germany since World War II,” Graf Douglas said by telephone from Frankfurt. “I had other willing buyers but they wanted to take it out of Germany, which wasn’t allowed. I could probably have sold it for more than 100 million euros if it wasn’t barred from export.”

Interested buyers included the J. Paul Getty Museum, he said.

Protective Cloak

The 1525-8 oil painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, “The Madonna With the Family of Mayor Meyer,” was painted on commission for the Basel mayor Jakob Meyer zum Hasen. The Meyers are portrayed at the feet of the Madonna, sheltered under her cloak. It belonged to the family for almost 100 years.

“It is the transition from the wonderful German late Gothic to the Renaissance,” Graf Douglas said. “When you stand in front of it you see how mystical, wonderful it is.”

Wuerth pledged to keep the painting on public view and said the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt and the Landesmuseum in Darmstadt “will be the preferred borrowers of the artwork.”

Wuerth’s collection spans more than 14,000 works, ranging from Anish Kapoor and Henry Moore to Picasso and Max Beckmann. Graf Douglas negotiated Wuerth’s purchase of the Fuerstenberg collection in 2003, extending his range to late medieval works by artists including Lucas Cranach and Tilman Riemenschneider. The Wuerth family converted the Johanniterhalle, a 12th-century church in Schwaebisch Hall, to put the works on permanent display.

Wuerth Gruppe employs 65,000 people in 84 countries. Sales for the first half of 2011 totaled 4.78 billion euros, according to the company website. Its main products aside from screws are dowels, plugs, tools and chemical products.

Staedel Museum director Max Hollein said the museum went to its “absolute limits” in offering 40 million euros in cash, the last of several offers over many years of negotiating. Nikolaus Schweickart, the chairman of the Staedel’s administration, said the museum had discussed purchasing the painting jointly with Wuerth.

The Holbein will remain on display at the Staedel Museum until July 24, before moving to the Johanniterhalle.

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