Monday, 10 November 2014

‘The Boston Raphael’ an Early US Museum Case

‘The Boston Raphael’ was an early case where the legality of a recent purchase by an American museum was questioned. Ultimately the piece went back to Italy as a result of perceived irregularities in its export. The case of the painting spans and even initiated changes in the conventions concerning the export of works of art, the ways that museums are managed and faced changing priorities, and also the methods of research and authentication of acquired objects. It therefore forms party of the background to more recent stories of repatriations by museums. In the centre of the story was Perry Rathbone, one of the most influential museum directors in America at a time of their transition "from quiet repositories of art to palaces for the people". He was director of the St. Louis Art Museum (1940 - 1955), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1955 to 1972) and then was head of the New York offices of Christie's. The cause of his resignation from MFA was the affair over this painting and a power struggle in the US museum world.

There is now a new book out, written by Rathbone's daughter (Sebastian Smee, 'The Boston Raphael by Belinda Rathbone ', Boston Globe October 11, 2014). It's getting a lot of hype at the moment. The painting itself is not today generally accepted as a work by Raphael.

'The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Mueseum in an Era of Change, and a Daughter's Search for the Truth' by Belinda Rathbone Amazon.

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