National Gallery and Christie’s reach deal to return Chagall’s The Eiffel Tower to Canada

Detail from La Tour Eiffel by Marc Chagall, which is still part of the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

Marc Chagall’s La Tour Eiffel is coming home to the National Gallery of Canada at last.

The gallery said in another rather cryptic media release Thursday morning that “after revisiting the terms of our contract, the National Gallery of Canada and Christie’s confirm that La tour Eiffel by Marc Chagall will be released from sale by joint agreement.”

The release goes on to state that the gallery and the auction house had reached a “mutually satisfactory financial agreement … which is not at the expense of the National Gallery of Canada.” Turns out the gallery was helped by an anonymous donor.

Now they just have to get the canvas back into Canada.

This final piece ends some of the mystery of the final fate of the painting. Even after the gallery very publicly decided not to sell the Chagall, it remained on the Christie’s website as an item to be auctioned off on May 15.

Just last week the director of the National Gallery, was saying he didn’t know the painting was.

He told reporters at a media preview for The Extended Moment: Fifty Years of Collecting Photographs: “If I did, I would tell you. But we don’t know and we have nothing new to add,” Mayer responded. “When we have more to say, we’ll be happy to let you know.”

The Chagall was to be sold to raise funds to purchase the painting Saint Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgement by Jacques-Louis David, which is owned by the Notre-Dame-de-Québec parish corporation in Quebec City. At the time the gallery believed the David was in danger of leaving Canada.

The Quebec government intervened and declared the David a piece of Quebec heritage meaning it could not leave the province without the government’s permission. It is an election year in Quebec and no doubt politics had a role to play.

In the end the gallery decided it would not sell the Chagall, and noted “the passionate views” of Canadians on the matter demanding the Chagall stay in Canada.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.