National Bank of Hungary spends HUF 8.7 billion on artwork, collections

July 28, 2015

MNB paid HUF 1.4 billion to acquire Mihály Munkácsy’s "Christ before Pilate"
National Bank of Hungary paid HUF 1.4 billion (USD 5.7 million) to acquire Mihály Munkácsy’s “Christ before Pilate”

Paintings by Mihály Munkácsy and Tiziano Vecellio are among various works of art purchased by the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) within the framework of its so-called “Depository Program” (Értéktár Program) over the past eighteen months.

Shortly after György Matolcsy took over as central bank governor, the National Bank announced that it was setting aside EUR 100 million (HUF 30 billion) to purchase works of art through 2018.  So far it has spent HUF 6.3 billion (USD 22.5 million) on paintings and HUF 2.4 billion (USD 8.6 million) on various objets d’art, including a collection of silver coins minted in Transylvania between the 14th and 17th centuries.

The most expensive acquisition to date was the HUF 4.5 billion (USD 16 million) purchase of Tiziano Vecellio’s “Maria with Child and Saint Paul”, a painting reportedly appraised for just HUF 1.4 billion six years ago.

Tiziano Vecellio’s “Maria with Child and Saint Paul”
Tiziano Vecellio’s “Maria with Child and Saint Paul”

Liberal opposition party Dialogue for Hungary (PM) has threatened to report the central bank to authorities for malfeasance if Matolcsy fails to provide a “satisfactory answer” as to why MNB paid more than three times what the painting was appraised for in 2009.

PM believes that there were “thousands of better uses” for this money, pointing out that it exceeds by half the amount the government is spending on feeding children during the summer recess, and more than three times the HUF 1.3 billion budgeted for artistic activities this year.

The central bank is currently “negotiating” the purchase of Mihály Munkácsy’s “Golgota” from New York-based art collector and dealer Imre Pákh.  The painting has been on display at the Déri Museum in Debrecen along with the other two canvases making up a trilogy depicting the trial and death of Christ.

Imre Pákh with Mihály Munkácsy’s “Golgota”
Imre Pákh with Mihály Munkácsy’s “Golgota”

In June the government’s artwork regulatory agency informed Pákh that it had initiated a procedure to declare the painting a protected piece of artwork, requiring that it remain in Hungary and giving the government a right of first refusal in the case of a pending sale to a third party.

According to deputy central bank governor Ferenc Gerhardt, the central bank’s offer of USD 6 million is “irrevocable”.  When agreeing to lend the giant canvas to Debrecen, Pakh reportedly agreed with the Office of the Prime Minister on a price of USD 9 million.

The following list of objets d’art acquired to date was posted on MNB’s website: