An early 19th century masterpiece has become one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold. It’s a landscape called “The Lock” by John Constable, and it sold Tuesday night at auction for more than $35 million.
Constable’s masterpiece was causing quite a stir in Spain even before the sale. At a recent press conference, the blond, bejeweled 69-year-old owner said she hoped her extremely important painting would fetch a lot of money. She said it was crucial for her as she needs the dough. “People say I’m a millionaire,” Carmen Cervera Thyseen told reporters, “but I’m not. Maybe I am in terms of the all the paintings I own. But I’m asset rich and cash poor.”
The flamboyant Spanish baroness is a former beauty queen, winning the Miss Spain contest in 1961. She’s also one of the heiresses to the massive Thyssen fortune. Thyssen owns nearly a billion dollars’ worth of paintings including half a dozen by Gauguin, a Picasso and hundreds of others. Most are on permanent display in her museum in Madrid. She also has four estates, some 80 employees, and a huge yacht. She inherited all this from her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen, a German industrialist.
Hans Heinrich Thyssen was Thyssen’s third husband. She was his fifth wife. All along the way there were kids. And now they are all fighting over the family fortune, including the world class art collection. It’s the kind of blue-blood feuding that Spain’s tabloid press can’t get enough of.
Nearly lost in the media frenzy is the beauty of the Constable painting sold Tuesday. The piece is called “The Lock.” “It’s one of the great heroic British landscapes,” said Jussi Pylkkanen of Sotheby’s. “An outright view of Denham painted in mid-summer, with the lock keeper pushing open the gate, the water rushing through, this tremendous landscape beyond huge, billowing clouds. The essence of what’s wonderful about Britain and the British landscape.”
The buyer of “The Lock” chose to remain anonymous at the auction, perhaps to steer clear of the ongoing art battles in the Thyssen family.