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Deplorable Deaccession: Randolph College’s Signature Bellows Sold to London’s National Gallery

George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912

George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912

Just as Brandeis University, after a change of presidents, abandoned its plan to sell works from its Rose Art Museum to help address the university’s financial needs, one might have hoped that when Bradley Bateman assumed the presidency of Randolph College last year, he would have reconsidered the ill-conceived, long-standing but not yet realized plan to dispose of George Bellows‘ celebrated “Men of the Docks,” the signature work of the college’s Maier Museum.

No such luck.

The college today announced that it had sold “Men of the Docks” for $25.5 million. Not only has it left Randolph College; it’s left the country: The purchaser is the National Gallery, London, where it will become the collection’s “first major American work,” according to its director, Nicholas Penny, who was previously senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the National Gallery, Washington.

According to the college’s announcement:

Terms of the agreement maintain a connection between the painting and the College’s campus and create enriching new opportunities for the Randolph community. Benefits of the partnership include plans for high-level staff members of the National Gallery to lecture at Randolph College as well as a special internship program for Randolph students that will be established in London with the museum.

The National Gallery also collaborates with the Terra Foundation for American Art to bring exhibitions of U.S. artworks to London.

By buying this work, the National Gallery has put itself at odds with the Association of Art Museum Directors, which in 2007 and again in 2011 issued statements that roundly condemned this deplorable deaccession.

Maybe that’s why the only institution that would touch this quintessentially American work was a foreign one.

an ArtsJournal blog