Timing is everything.
The National Gallery of Art will opens an exhibition Tuesday featuring a rare 17th-century painting by Caspar Netscher that it acquired only last week. The 1666 work, “A Woman Feeding a Parrot,” makes its U.S. debut in a exhibition of Dutch landscapes and still-lifes on view through early next year.
The museum, which will formally announce the acquisition Tuesday, acquired the painting through a gift from the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund. The painting, the first by Netscher in the NGA’s collection, will hang next to a compositional study of the same scene that is on loan from the British Museum. It marks the first time the two works have been displayed side by side, thanks to the British Museum’s expedited loan.
“This is totally off the charts,” curator Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. said of the Sept. 29 acquisition. Usually months in the making, the transaction was completed within a week. “The painting is in perfect condition, and we have this incredible situation where we can feature it,” he added.
Wheelock said he had had his eye on the work for several years but was unable to secure it because of its troubled provenance. The painting was bought by a Belgium family in the 1930s and deposited in a Brussels museum in 1939 for safekeeping. But in 1942, during the German occupation, the work became part of Nazi leader Hermann Goering’s collection. It was donated to the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1952, where it remained until it was returned to the heirs of the Belgium collector in 2014.
The work sold in 2014 at a Christie’s auction for $5.1 million, and the National Gallery acquired it from the London art dealer who had bought it. Its restitution, and subsequent sale, provided a “window of opportunity” that no one expected, the curator said.
“It’s the most beautiful thing practically that you’ve ever seen,” Wheelock said. “It’s an incredibly engaging, seductive painting. It is in incredible condition, by an important artist and a great masterpiece of the 1660s.”
Wheelock said the drawing on loan from the British Museum was thought to be a preliminary study of the painting, but research by the National Gallery has revealed that it was done later. Artists would sometimes create copies of their paintings for their records, he said.
“One of the nice things of doing an exhibition is these totally unexpected discoveries,” Wheelock said.
“Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt” is on view through Jan. 2, 2017.