Largest private Pre-Colombian art collection closes to public

After 15 years the 310 piece collection in the Barbier-Mueller museum leaves the city.

One of the rooms in the Barbier-Mueller museum in Barcelona on it's last day.
One of the rooms in the Barbier-Mueller museum in Barcelona on it's last day.Joan Sánchez (El País)

After a 15-year history, the Barbier-Mueller Museum of Pre-Columbian Art in Barcelona closed its doors for good on Friday. There were barely 20 last-minute visitors to the world's largest private collection of pre-Hispanic art, housed at Palau Nadal on Montcada street, just across from the ever-popular Picasso Museum.

 Those who did walk in were the last people to view the 310 items from the Inca, Maya, Olmeca, Mazcala, Chupícuaro, Chancay and Mochica cultures, which flourished in Central and South America. The star of the collection was a fertility goddess in terracotta created by the Mexican culture of Chupícuaro, which existed between 800 BC and the third century. Its estimated value is several hundred thousand euros.

In a few days, the masks, ceramics, ornaments and other artifacts will travel to Paris for auction at Sotheby's on March 22 and 23 of next year.

The collection was begun in 1920 by Josef Mueller and continued by his family, especially his son-in-law Jean-Louis Barbier, who always wanted to install it in Madrid even though it was based in Geneva. The city of Barcelona spent several months in negotiations over the possibility of keeping the collection where it was, but the asking price of 20 million euros was deemed too steep. The loan, which was signed in 1995, stipulated that the contract would be terminated if some of the items were sold. It now emerges that the entire collection has been sold to a third party which plans to auction each item individually at Sotheby's.

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