An encroachment upon the integrity of integrity of the Brukenthal collection
Autor: Iulia Mesea
In 1803, the town of Sibiu was bestowed an exceptional cultural inheritance. In his last will, in very precise and clear terms, the Baron Samuel von Brukenthal left his Palace from the Big Square (Grosse Ring), all his collection, the palace from Avrig and the estates near the town, to the Evangelic Church, the evangelic school, implicitly, to the town. Despite the precautions in drawing up this document, the integrity of the collections and the entire legacy was several times encroached upon, from different reasons, across the time.
In the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the European painting collection of the Brukenthal Museum became well known in Europe due to the catalogues printed in 1844, 1888, 1893, 1901 and 1909. Thus, this collection made its entrance in the circulation of European art values. This was the moment when works of exceptional value of the collection became coveted by other museums or by private collectors. Several offers for some of the best paintings were sent to the Brukenthal Museum. The most desired painting of the collection was The Man with a Blue Cap, by Jan van Eyck. In 1912, the Brukenthal Museum received an extremely tempting offer for this work, namely, 1.000.000 krowns, from an American mine owner. As the museum had very small financial funds for new acquisitions, the young artists, lead by Ernst Honigberger, a painter from Braşov, strongly supported the idea of selling the painting, so that the institution could enrich its collections. The money was supposed to be used in acquiring a collection of German and Saxon contemporary art. Some of the arguments of the young team were: the necessity of offering the public contemporary art so that it became more interested in the offer of the museum; the town of Sibiu could become famous in this region thanked to such a collection; the museum should have been able to support the young generation of artists by buying their creations; the selling of one work would not affect the unity of the collection; the Baron Samuel von Brukenthal also left his inheritance for the young generation of artists to be supported.
The conservative team, lead by the curator Michael Csaki, supported the idea of keeping the integrity of the collection, taking into consideration the terms of the last will of the Baron Brukenthal. They also considered risky to sell a masterpiece for buying contemporary art that could prove a lot less valuable in time. At the same time, the gesture of selling one piece of the collection could have proved in time a very dangerous precedent.
After many strong debates, arguments and opinions of a lot of artists, art critics, cultural personalities, lawyers from the country and abroad, most of them published in the newspapers of the time, the final decision taken by the board of the museum that had the right to take all decisions regarding the institution, was to decline the offer.
Unfortunately, almost forty years later, in different circumstances that do not make the subject of this study, the Brukenthal collection was deprived of 19 paintings, among which was also Jan van Eyck’ s masterpiece.