(MTI) – The government maintains its plans to purchase Pilate, a part of Hungarian painter Mihaly Munkacsy’s famous Christ Trilogy, but the transaction requires a new “legal background”, mayor of Debrecen Lajos Kosa told a press conference on Friday.
Christ before Pilate is currently on display in eastern Hungary’s Debrecen, but will soon be shipped back to its Canadian owner, the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
Kosa said that the funds required to buy the painting were available under a central bank programme, but added that effective regulations did not offer an opportunity for the government to buy artwork from foreign owners.
At the government’s inquiry, the State Audit Office said that such transactions would require a public procurement procedure, which, in this case, is “not an option”, Kosa said. The government has therefore instructed the justice minister to elaborate a legal construction in which the government could buy the painting without public or general procurement procedures, he said.
Kosa proposed that Golgotha, another piece in the Trilogy, should also be purchased from its US owner to complete the composition.
Laszlo Baan, director of the Museum of Fine Arts told MTI on Friday that the Hungarian state cannot be forced to pay an unrealistic price for the two parts of the trilogy that are currently in foreign ownership.
Daily Nepszava reported on Friday that the theoretical value assigned to Christ before Pilate by Hamilton Gallery was 5.4 million Canadian dollars, which is the equivalent of over 1 billion forints. A professional source close to the case who wished to remain unnamed told MTI that the Canadian gallery wanted the equivalent of more than 2 billion forints for the painting.
Baan, who previously represented the Hungarian state in talks on the planned purchase of Christ before Pilate, declined to comment on these figures, but said it was generally understood in the international art market that the market for Munkacsy is in Hungary and the Hungarian state is the sole potential buyer for the missing parts of the trilogy. He added that Christ before Pilate was sold at a New York auction by Sotheby’s for 60,000 dollars in 1988.
Debrecen’s Deri Museum announced on Thursday that Christ before Pilate would return to Canada after talks between government representatives and the gallery reportedly broke down when the two sides failed to reach an agreement on extending the painting’s loan term.
Ecce Homo! (1896), the first piece of the Trilogy, is owned by the Hungarian state, Golgotha (1884) is in the ownership of Hungarian-born US art collector Imre Pakh, while Christ before Pilate (1881) belongs to the Art Gallery of Hamilton, in Canada.
Photo: MTI – Zsolt Czegledi