Langmatt Museum’s Decision to Sell Three Cezannes Raises Ire of the International Council of Museums

The Swiss branch of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has issued an official letter in protest to the Langmatt Museum’s decision to sell three prime works by Paul Cézzane at Christie’s New York in November, the Art Newspaper reported Thursday. The museum has said the sale will save the Baden, Switzerland-based institution from going under and having to permanently shut its doors.

The Langmatt Foundation, which oversees the museum, said the institution is close to bankruptcy and that the sale is a necessity to maintain the Villa Langmatt, which houses the museum’s collection of 50 or so Impressionist works. Markus Stegmann, the museum’s director, told the Art Newspaper that the decision took years and framed the sale as a “last resort to save the museum after alternative efforts to raise funds to keep the Langmatt Foundation afloat failed.” 

While renovations of the museum are to be funded by the city of Baden and the surrounding canton of Aargau, as well as individual donations and some funds from the foundation, the foundation is seeking about $45 million to start a trust to guarantee the museum’s future.

However, Tobia Bezzola, the president of the Swiss branch of the ICOM, called the decision to sell the Cézannes “outrageous.” ICOM’s guidelines stipulate that “in no event should the potential monetary value of an object be considered as part of the motive for determining whether or not to deaccession.” Bezzola said the sale of the works is a flagrant disregard of that rule, calling it an “absolute no go” and warning that the sale could set “an enormously dangerous example” to other museums. 

The works will be offered consecutively and in an interesting fashion during Christie’s 20th Century evening sale on November 9. First up will be Fruits et pot de gingembre (between 1890 and 1893, estimate: $35-$55 million) followed by Quatre pommes et un couteau (1885, estimate: $7-$10 million) and finally La mer à l’Estaque (1878-1879, $3-$5 million). Once the total bid for one or any combination of the works reacheds$45 million, whatever remains will be removed from the auction and sent home to the museum.

Despite the museum’s dire situation, not all who support it agree with the sale. Alfred Sulzer, a former president of the board of the Langmatt Foundation told The Art Newspaper that he believes the sale “violates the deeds of the foundation.” Sulzer is so against the proposed sale that he had his lawyer issue a letter to Christie’s asking the auction house to inform potential buyers that he thinks the sale is illegal. Should the sale proceed, Sulzer said he would “pursue this [situation] to the highest court in Switzerland.”