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Randolph College Sends its Signature Bellows to Auction

George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912, Maier Museum

Shame on Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA, for deciding to sell the signature work of its Maier Museum—the Bellows painting, pictured above, which was its first purchase when acquired in 1920 for $2,500.

Shame on Christie’s for abetting this flagrant violation of professional principles of collections stewardship, by accepting this auction consignment. It is estimated to bring $25-35 million to benefit the college’s general endowment, not the museum’s collection. Where is Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell when we really need him?

Having already receiving a financial warning from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Randolph is up for an accreditation review in December. Comments to Carol Vogel of the NY Times (for tomorrow’s paper) by Randolph’s new president, John Klein, make it clear that the trustees have decided they’ve run out of time to raise funds the old-fashioned way, or to arrange a collection-sharing agreement that might have involved works purchased with funds bequeathed by Louise Jordan Smith. Any deal involving those works would have required court approval to deviate from the terms of the bequest. Such approval was being sought but was not yet forthcoming.

Three other works are being liquidated, including Edward Hicks‘ “A Peaceable Kingdom,” which was to be the subject of the museum’s December Tour of the Month (scroll to the bottom). I guess that tour is now cancelled.

Ironically, the current newsletter of the Maier Museum, published before the decision to sell was taken, includes these comments by T. Moody Campbell, the professor who had arranged the purchase of the Bellows:

Mr. Bellows’ response was immediate and generous. He said that most artists, he being one of them, were less concerned about the price of their pictures than they were about having them in a place where they would be appreciated. He seemed to think the educational aspect of our undertaking was most important….The fact that the students had entered so enthusastically into the project evidently impressed him. He said we might have the painting for the sum I had mentioned.

Had he foreseen the trustees’ vote of Oct. 1, 2007, Bellows might acted otherwise.
And this just in—an incendiary note that blew up my inbox, from Ellen Agnew, who recently resigned her position as associate director of the Maier, in protest against the college’s consideration of deaccessions:

College officials and a lawyer for Randolph College from McGuire Woods came to the Maier Museum of Art at 4:55 this afternoon unannounced. Four paintings were de-installed (two actually from display in the galleries), wrapped by “qualified art handlers,” loaded into an unmarked rental truck, and left the premises. The paintings taken were by George Bellows, Edward Hicks, Rufino Tamayo, and Ernest Martin Hennings.

College personnel on-site during the removal included John Klein (President), Chris Burnley (VP for finance), Dixie Sakolosky (Assistant to the President), Sharon Saunders (Director of Human Resources), Brenda Edson (Strategic Communications Manager), Kris Irwin (Director of Security), Bobby Bennett (Head of Buildings and Grounds), and at least two city police officers. Passers-by were told that there was a bomb threat at the Museum and to leave the area. The road at the corner of Norfolk Ave and Quinlan St. was blocked.

Words cannot express my anger, dismay, and disgust over the actions of this Board of Trustees and Administration. This cowardly act is proof yet again of the secrecy and lack of transparency…that have become a hallmark of this Board.

an ArtsJournal blog