The Hackley Art Gallery (ultimately named the Muskegon Museum of Art) acquired this portrait on June 3, 1913 as a work attributed to Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828). Raymond Wyer, the gallery’s first director, conducted the purchase, which was the most expensive painting ever acquired through the Hackley Picture Fund. The above referenced article in Aesthetics, vol. IV, published by the Hackley Art Gallery, designates the portrait as “one of the most important paintings in our permanent collection."[i] The sitter, Don Juan José Perez Mora, was an influential civilian and military administrator for the city of Madrid. He is depicted holding a letter in his right hand inscribed in Spanish “Madrid, 10 July 1810. Administration of Madrid. Concerning the most noble Don Juan José Perez Mora." This same inscription is printed in English on an old paper label affixed to this painting’s stretcher.
In 1915, the Art Committee of the United States invited the Hackley Art Gallery to loan six paintings from its permanent collection to hang at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, the most of any museum in the world.[ii] This portrait is specifically referenced by Rossiter Howard, a prominent art educator and one-time director of the Kansas City Art Institute: “Goya’s Don Juan José gives us the feeling of the same period in Spain, though Goya stood alone, rather than as one of a group, in his expression of it […] The character is drawn so that we feel it keenly, the modeling is vigorous and fine, and the composition is sensitive. The painting would stand high among the Goyas of Madrid."[iii]
On February 9, 1929, Juan-Allende Salazar, a Spanish art scholar and trustee of the Prado, called into question the Goya attribution in a letter to the Hackley Art Gallery, and argued that the painting was likely by José Ribelles y Helip (Spanish, 1778-1835) instead. In a letter dated April 15, 1946, Professor Martin S. Soria, an art historian in the Spanish Department at Princeton University, voiced similar concerns regarding the Goya attribution, and reaffirmed Salazar’s identification of José Ribelles y Helip as the true artist. His letter states: “I had felt that José Ribelles y Helip was probably the author of your picture. I have recently been able to check this attribution by comparison with various photographs of authentic portraits by this master in Spain. My conclusion is that Juan José Perez Mora is a work by José Ribelles […] As to the date of the picture, your discussion is very convincing and I fear that for the time being it must remain 1810 or 1818. The decorations are, from the spectator’s left: Order of St. John of Malta, Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Order of St. Ferdinand."[iv] The Muskegon Museum of Art no longer possesses the two aforementioned letters in their archives. The documentation provided for this lot is courtesy of the Muskegon Museum of Art.
Charles H. Hackley (1837-1905) was born in Michigan City, Indiana, and made his fortune in Muskegon’s then thriving lumber industry as the owner of the Hackley-Hume Lumber Mill from 1854-1894. While many lumber mill owners eventually moved their operations to the Pacific Northwest, Hackley remained in Muskegon and emerged as a preeminent philanthropist in the once prosperous former industrial center. Among his numerous endeavors, Hackley envisioned opening a municipal art gallery for the city, and left through a bequest in his will an expendable trust of $150,000 to the Muskegon Public Schools Board of Education, a fund that ultimately came to be known as the Hackley Picture Fund. Hackley stated in his will that the fund was established for the purpose of purchasing “pictures of the best kind," and in 1910, Muskegon’s Board of Education broke ground on a facility meant to house their growing collection of fine art, ultimately culminating in the opening of the Hackley Art Gallery. In 1979, the Hackley Art Gallery, also known as the Hackley Art Museum, underwent significant renovation and was renamed the Muskegon Museum of Art.[v]