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Three Montclair Museum “Disposables” Featured in Its Handbook of Highlights

Montclair Art Museum’s collection handbook

On Friday, I commented that except for the Pollock, the deaccessioning by the Montclair (NJ) Art Museum next month at Christie’s “appears to be mostly a housecleaning.”


I took a short drive over to the museum yesterday and was struck anew by the high quality of its American holdings from the 18th and 19th century, as well as the intelligence and helpfulness of the labels elucidating those works. At the end of my visit, I stopped in at the bookstore to purchase a copy of the museum’s 2002 handbook, Montclair Art Museum: Selected Works.

I saw immediately that the Pollock was included—described in the handbook as dating “from the height of Pollock’s career and his most productive year as a draftsman [1951].” But when I returned home to compare this compilation with the list of works to be auctioned next month, I found two additional matches, accompanied by descriptions that could now (merely seven years since the handbook’s publication) serve as fodder for auction-catalogue copy:

John Francis, “Still Life with Fruit and Nuts,” 1868, estimated to sell for $15,000-25,000 on May 20 at Christie’s American sale

From the handbook:

“Still Life with Fruit and Nuts” is a Peale-type dessert piece, which attracted a wide audience. With a soft application of paint, Francis distinguishes each morsel for its individual beauty.

George L.K. Morris, “Labyrinth,” 1957, estimated to sell for $50,000-70,000 on May 20 at Christie’s American sale

From the handbook:

“Labyrinth” is a dynamic composition of strong but subtle colors, enlivened by the bold use of black and white. The centrifugal arrangement of the interlocking shapes and their gradual reduction in size toward the center create an illusion of depth.

I still don’t know the identities of the Montclair castoffs to be included in three June sales at Christie’s. (Old Masters: 2 Montclair consignments; Interiors: 14; Books: 1; all will eventually be searchable on Christie’s site.) Nor have I gotten the list of costumes from Montclair to be sold by Augusta Auctions in New York on Wednesday. Although the museum’s director, Lora Urbanelli, told me last Wednesday that she would have someone send me the list of consignments “tomorrow” (that is, last Thursday), I have received nothing so far. My e-mailed request to Augusta Auctions was likewise unanswered.

It appears that the sales are problematic not merely because their proceeds will do double duty (to be used not only for art purchases but also to augment the total endowment, satisfying requirements related to the museum’s bond issue). Montclair, it now appears, also deserves scrutiny for jettisoning three works that a few years ago were deemed by the museum itself to be important enough to the collection for inclusion among only about 200 objects chosen for the handbook (at a time when its total holdings numbered about 15,000).

Meanwhile, John Spencer, a CultureGrrl reader who says he has no artworld connections but is “just an anguished layman,” has called my attention to “more deaccession craziness,” this time by the Hirshhorn Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which had consigned six works to Christie’s. My correspondent wrote:

The Hirshhorn is jettisoning three paintings by Thomas
[here, here and, most importantly, here]. No doubt this is being justified as removing works not in line with the Hirshhorn’s role as the “modern and contemporary” branch of the Smithsonian. But in any sane world they would simply be transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which, to my recollection, isn’t exactly drowning in Eakins masterworks.

Joseph Hirshhorn did deed his collection to the nation, right? I don’t care what building they’re kept in, but it’s outrageous that the “nation’s
attic,” located in the nation’s capital, has no room for works by arguably the nation’s greatest painter.

Here are two Eakinses that SAAM owns, neither of which appears to be of the quality of the considerably larger Robert C. Ogden portrait:

Thomas Eakins, “Robert C. Ogden,” 1904, estimated to sell from the Hirshhorn’s collection for $400,000-600,000 on May 20 at Christie’s American sale

While we continue to sort all this out, many thanks go out to CultureGrrl Donors 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33, from Brooklyn; Chadds Ford, PA; Manhattan; Natick, MA; and Melbourne, Australia. This is, as I’ve mentioned, my last week of blogging-as-usual, after which I’ll be sending e-mail blasts, with links to my (less frequent) posts, to those who have donated $5 or more. (Please click the button in the middle column, if you wish to donate.)

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