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“Cash Cow” Collections: Two More Maier Museum Works Sold, by Hicks & Hennings

While a front-page NY Times piece by Doreen Carvajal yesterday focused primarily on recent European examples of museums’ holdings being regarded as possible “cash cows” (in the words of the headline), an under-the-radar development in the U.S. has just added another chapter to the saga of deplorable deaccessions from Randolph College’s Maier Museum.

Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA

Maier Museum of Art, Randolph College, Lynchburg, VA

Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman last week announced the recent sales of Ernest Martin Hennings’ “Through the Arroyo” and Edward Hicks’ “A Peaceable Kingdom”—the remaining two of the four paintings from the collection of the Maier Museum that had been earmarked for disposal back in 2007, with the goal of boosting Randolph’s operating endowment.

Bateman’s announcement buried the news of those lamentable losses. Trying to put a good face on things, he led with the decision of the Hennings’ anonymous purchaser to place it on loan at the museum, where it is now on view. The terms of that loan have not been made public, but Bateman told Lynchburg, VA, News & Advance that he “hope[s] that it is here for hundreds of years.”

 Ernest Martin Hennings. "Through the Arroyo"

Ernest Martin Hennings. “Through the Arroyo”

“The two paintings were sold in private sales and purchase prices will remain confidential,” according to Bateman’s announcement. “As with [the] two previous paintings, the proceeds from the sales announced today will be invested into the College’s endowment.”

Those earlier disposals were: George Bellow‘s “Men of the Docks,” sold last year for $25.5 million to London’s National Gallery; Rufino Tamayo‘s “Trovador,” auctioned in 2008 at Christie’s for $7.21 million.

George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912

George Bellows, “Men of the Docks,” 1912

The sale of the Bellows, arguably the Maier’s signature painting and the first to be purchased for its collection (for $2,500 in 1920), incurred sanctions from the Association of Art Museum Directors for violating that group’s professional standards, which stipulate that proceeds from museums’ sale of art should be applied solely to purchases of art.

Randolph’s Thursday announcement trumpeted “the establishment of an endowment to fund a director of education position at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, internships at the National Gallery, London [part of the deal for the sale of the Bellows], and other visual arts education programs provided by the [unspecified] proceeds of the sale of Edward Hicks’ “A Peaceable Kingdom.”

According to the report by Jessie Pounds in Thursday’s News & Advance:

Bateman said “A Peaceable Kingdom” [was] sold in early January and the school finalized the sale of “Through the Arroyo” two to three weeks ago….The National Gallery will loan a few Renaissance-era prints to the school for display in the fall.

Maybe the National Gallery’s new director, Gabriele Finaldi, who will succeed the retiring Nicholas Penny in August, should consider periodically lending the Bellows back to the Maier, making partial amends for his institution’s having been the other side of a transaction condemned by his American colleagues.

Intent on “putting these difficulties in the past,” Bateman now states that “the Board has no intention of selling any additional paintings.”

All well and good. But well-meaning “intentions” aren’t ironclad promises. If this institution runs into further economic trouble down the road, a pernicious precedent has been set—a course that should have been repudiated before the last two sales were consummated.

an ArtsJournal blog