Rijksmuseum Scores Early Landscape of America; $9.5 Million Antique Chest Once Used as TV Stand

  • July 14, 2013 12:49

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Jan Mostaert’s “Discovery of America,” or “Episode From the Conquest of America.”

The Rijksmuseum has made two major recent acquisitions: one of the earliest known landscapes of America and an important 1640s lacquered chest that had once used as a TV stand.

The Dutch museum paid $9.5 million, the second highest price ever at auction for Japanese art, to acquire the antique chest at auction from the estate of an engineer who paid just $150 for it in 1970.

Dating to between 1525 and 1540, the painting is among the earliest depictions of America in the history of Western art. Titled, “Discovery of America,” or “Episode From the Conquest of America,” Jan Mostaert’s masterpiece depicts Spanish invaders at battle with naked indigenous people.


The painting was purchased through Simon Dickinson Gallery, who offered it with a $14 million asking price at The European Fine Art Fair, although the pirce the museum paid was undisclosed. It was among 202 paintings that Marei von Saher, the daughter-in-law of Jewish Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, had restituted after proving they were looted by Nazis.

It is one of the oldest Dutch paintings mentioned in the first Dutch art-history book, “Het Schilder-boeck” (1604) by Karel van Mander.

The second major acquisition is a 370-year-old gold lacquered Japanese chest by master craftsman Kaomi Nagashige, working on commission for the Dutch East India Company.

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum purchased this important Japanese lacquered chest at auction for £6.3 million ($9.5 million), well beyond the pre-sale estimate of £200,000.

Auctioneer Philippe Rouillac spotted the chest during the clearing-out of the late Shell Oil engineer's home, where it had been casually used as a TV stand and a liquor cabinet.

With a long provenance from Cardinal Jules Mazarin, France's chief minister, to British poet William Beckford, and a string of prominent collectors, the piece eventually went missing. Britain's Victoria & Albert Museum has been searching for it since 1941, the last recorded sale.

The family of the unnamed London-based French engineer said he purchased it from a Polish doctor. The engineer took it with him to the Loire Valley upon retirement in 1986.

Decorated inside and out with gold lacquer, the cedar wood chest depicts Japanese myths including the Tale of Genji.

"The thing to note about this chest is that it is the best of the best," said Rijksmuseum curator Menno Fitski.

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