A quarter of a century ago, a marble bust of the 18th century politician Sir John Gordon lay forgotten on the floor of a storage shed in Scotland. Now, after having been on view at both the Getty in Los Angeles and the Louvre in Paris, the sculpture could fetch up to £2.5 million at Sotheby’s.
Per Sotheby’s, the sculpture was executed by the French artist Edmé Bouchardon in 1728. His work, described by the Getty as the “combined an inventive spirit with a quest for perfection to achieve many of the masterpieces that are associated with Louis XV’s reign,” is scattered throughout the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
Incredibly, the work was purchased in 1930 at a house sale for a mere £5 by the Balintore local council. It was intended for display, but instead placed under mysterious circumstances “with other discarded council paraphernalia” in a storage shed.
Former Invergordon community councilor Maxine Smith, who now serves as a member of the Highland council, found the bust 25 years ago while she and a colleague were rummaging through the storage shed in search of a missing set of ceremonial robes and chains.
“I found the robes and chains and also a wee white marble sculpture thing holding open the door. It could have been binned quite easily,” Smith told The Guardian.
The Invergordon council sought help from Sotheby’s to find out the sculpture’s worth. According to a council report, Sotheby’s called the work “very collectible and therefore marketable” and found a buyer willing to pay over £2.5 million and pay for a pay for a museum-quality replica that could go public display in Invergordon.
The potential sale could help fund much needed community projects in Invergordon, and the Highland council committee voted on Monday to hold a public consultation on the sale.
“To be honest, it’s doing nobody any good sitting in the Inverness archive centre [sic], which is the only place secure enough to cover the insurance costs,” Smith told The Guardian. “In Invergordon we have areas of social deprivation but no funding to put into anything.”
Still, there are some who would prefer the council not risk the sculpture being bought by someone outside of Scotland.
“Here is this work of art that has fallen into the lap of Highland council for no money at all and it seems all they want to do is sell it for a lot of money to someone outside Scotland, when really there is no reason they can’t lend it to Inverness Museum or National Galleries of Scotland or National Museum of Scotland,” the art historian Bendor Grosvenor told BBC Radio Scotland.
The public consultation on the potential sale of the sculpture is required under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and must be open for at least eight weeks.