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The Museum Of Fine Arts Of Valencia To Inherit A Fortune

A German philanthropist changed his will a month before his death in order to leave 41 works to the Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia, including the magnificent Virgin of Cumberland by Rubens…

German art collector Hans Rudolf Gerstenmaier died in Madrid on 30 January 2021, at the age of 86, yet another statistic of the Coronavirus. A sad event, but one that brings with it great joy for Valencia – only a month before his death, Rodolfo, as his friends in Spain knew him, changed his will and, to everyone’s surprise, donated 41 paintings and engravings from his prized art collection to Valencia’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Virgin of Cumberland, an oil painting by Rubens valued at €200,000, is one of the most prominent parts of this collection.

There are many other interesting paintings in this collection, including Martin de Vos‘ Adoration of the Shepherds, as well as canvases and prints by artists such as Hendrick Goltzius and Jan Brueghel the Elder. The art world expected Gerstenmaier’s paintings to be donated to the Prado Museum after he donated 11 works of art by artists such as Joaquin Sorolla and Ignacio Zuolaga two years ago. Surprisingly, however, this collection is now on its way to the museum of fine arts of Valencia.

There is no word on when the public will be able to see these works; there are many formalities to be completed first, but according to the Director of the Valencian Museum, Pablo Gonzalez Tornel, the newly acquired art will have a prominent place in the museum of fine arts of Valencia. Nobody really knows why the collection was given to Valencia, though Tornel would like to think that this was done to recognise the museum’s work and how it has been improving its collection.

In any case, Gerstenmaier’s gift will help visitors gain a better understanding of the Flemish school of painting, a time period that is underrepresented in the Valencian museum. It will complement Van Dyck’s recently restored portrait of Rubens’ disciple, Francisco de Moncada.

Rudolf Gerstenmaier’s life is a story in and of itself. Gerstenmaier arrived in Spain from his hometown of Hamburg in 1962 when, he has said in the past, he didn’t even have enough money to buy a sandwich. Soon after, he made contacts with major carmakers in his home country (Mercedes, Volkswagen, and BMW), and in 1964, he founded his own spare parts supply company (Gerstenmaier SA), which grew to employ 150 people across 30 branches in Spain. In 2000, he sold the company and dedicated himself entirely to his art collection.

Gestermaier started buying art in 1976, and was a regular visitor at Sothebys and Christie’s auctions. Two years ago, in Zaragoza, during one of many exhibitions of his collection organised throughout Spain, he tried to explain his fascination: “The discovery of the Flemish school was accidental, supported through beauty. I let myself be carried away by the eye and I liked it because of the colour.” 

His art collection has been featured in 75 exhibitions in Spain, but his art career was not without controversy. The most notable was his 12-year-long legal battle with the Spanish government, which prevented the sale of one of the works purchased at the Sotheby’s auction: Maestro Villalobos’ El Propeta Isaias. Gestermaier was described as a “man without scruples’” who put his avarice ahead of the national interest.

Given that the majority of his collection was donated to Spanish institutions, it is difficult to justify these accusations. In a 2019 interview with Las Provincias, he stated that he had never bought to speculate, and had only been guided by his taste, intuition, and love of art. In donating his collection to Valencia he seems to be proving this from the grave.

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