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Tate buys Charles Saatchi’s Chapman sculptures

The faux-ethnographic sculptures may be the gallery's most expensive contemporary art purchase

Tate has bought a group of faux-ethnographic sculptures by British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman.

The Chapman Family Collection consists of 34 pieces carved in wood and then painted. They first went on display at the Chapman’s London gallery, White Cube, in 2002 where they were acquired by British collector Charles Saatchi. He is said to have paid £1m for the set. At the time he said that this was what “great art should be” (an edition of three painted bronzes was also produced).

The Chapman Family Collection was mainly responsible for the brothers being shortlisted for the Tate’s Turner Prize in 2003. In October that year, the work was shown at the Saatchi Gallery in County Hall and it was later lent to an exhibition in the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria. Most recently, Saatchi loaned the set for a Chapman Brothers retrospective at Tate Liverpool, which opened in December 2006. It was after this that discussions began on a sale to Tate.

The deal was arranged through White Cube. It is not known if the gallery bought the works back from Saatchi before selling them on to Tate or whether they served as intermediaries in the negotiations.

The price paid by Tate will not be disclosed until the publication of Tate’s next biennial report, but the acquisition is likely to be one of the gallery’s most expensive purchases of contemporary art in recent years (in 2004-6, a Sigmar Polke triptych was bought for £817,000).

In December 2004 (p1) we revealed that Mr Saatchi had offered his entire collection of British contemporary art to the Tate, although it was unclear whether a donation or sale had been intended.