2014 Archives

House of Alba treasures


The following is from the June 27, 2014, edition of The New York Times.

June 27, 2014

A Spanish aristocratic clan with what may be the best-preserved collection of art and other European treasures in Europe owned by a noble family is preparing to loan parts of it to a Dallas museum. The family’s noble British cousins, meanwhile, are selling objects that had been displayed in enormous family homes for centuries.

Next year the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas will borrow about 130 rarely exhibited pieces from the Alba palaces in Madrid, Seville and Salamanca. “Treasures From the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art and Collecting,” which opens in April, will trace the evolution of tastes among dukes and duchesses.

The House of Alba acquired old master religious scenes, ancient sculpture, medieval manuscripts, Haydn music scores, Napoleon III’s furniture, Christopher Columbus’s correspondence, Renaissance tapestries, Impressionist landscapes and portraits of family members. Goya often painted the 18th-century Duchess of Alba and is rumored to have been her lover.

Mark A. Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum, said that the Alba possessions probably rank as Europe’s greatest aristocratic collection that was never bombed, burned, looted, scattered on the market or seized by a government. The family, he said, “has always had the means to sustain all these palaces.” Objects that did leave Alba hands were soon replaced.

The current duchess, age 88, has auctioned some major works. Last May, Christie’s in Paris offered 1920s bathroom furniture from her Madrid palace. Designed by Armand Albert Rateau, the pieces included a gilded daybed (it brought $542,000), bronze tables and floor lamps sculpted with birds and snakes (between $850,000 and $2.1 million each) and a Carrara marble bathtub ($79,000).

The Madrid bathroom contents, Dr. Roglán said, may be reunited for the 2015 exhibition. The catalog will list Alba pieces that have ended up in other institutional and private collections.

Read the full story.

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