I came across this fascinating article on Victorian art dealer Ernst Gambart in the Guardian the other day. Apparently he bought ‘the most expensive painting by a living artist in history’ – 'The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple' by William Holman Hunt. It cost him £5,500 in 1866 which according to the article equates to over £2 million in today’s market.
Lucky for Ernst, his prize purchase was still on-route to him when his house exploded during a fabulous party for which he had hired theatrical gas lights. (Shame the same can’t be said for the poor guest who was killed in the catastrophe).
‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’ now hangs in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, but it will soon be on show in Manchester as part of ‘Holman Hunt & the Pre-Raphaelite Vision’ exhibition.
You can see a smaller version of the painting at Sudley House – the former home of another collector, George Holt. He paid 1200 guineas (£1260) for the study in 1888. It’s an exquisite painting with incredible detail which you can examine using our zoom facility online. There is also an extended piece on the painting as part of our picture of the month series.
If you are interested in collectors then Sudley House really is a gem and houses some real treasures. And it is the only place you can see the art collection of a Victorian merchant in its original setting. You can also find more paintings by Homan Hunt in the Walker Art Gallery and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.