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Keep The Pre-Raphaelite, Sell Contemporary Art, Expert Says

While inveighing against the Delaware Art Museum’s planned deacccession of William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil at Christie’s in London next month,  Pre-Raphaelite expert Mark Samuels Lasner (below) brought up a very touchy subject: why not sell undistingished contemporary artworks instead?

mark-samuels-lasnerLasner, who according to USA Today is “a senior research fellow at the University of Delaware Library and an expert on Victorian literature and art,” called the planned sale “sacrilege.”

“Isabella and the Pot of Basil is “an extraordinarily significant painting,” said Lasner, who has amassed a 9,000-piece collection of Victorian books, manuscripts and letters that has been exhibited worldwide.

In 2009, Lasner helped organize the “Useful and Beautiful” international conference and related exhibitions, which highlighted Delaware’s Pre-Raphaelite treasures. For the last 10 years, he has helped fund an annual Pre-Raphaelite student fellowship under a joint program between UD Library and the museum.

But Lasner said he is weighing no longer supporting the museum – either through fellowship funding or a financial bequest – in light of the Hunt sale….

The Pre-Raphaelite collection is the museum’s “core, the reason for the institution’s very existence,” along with American illustration, Lasner wrote.

The Lasner proposed an alternative — selling “post-1950 contemporary art holdings, ‘most of which are undistinguished.’ ”

Most museum directors I’ve discussed this with won’t go there. Some would like to sell contemporary art works they feel will not stand the test of time. But there are two problems: they don’t want to offend living artists — not only the ones whose works would be sold, but also others who might take offense at the practice. Second, they’re afraid that the works aren’t worth much — and that their sale would be a signal of an artist’s insignificance, depressing prices even more.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the American Printing History Association, Chesapeake Chapter


  1. Tom Brand says

    The question goes begging. What is “undistingished contemporary artworks” . i am not shy, I can name many. But not being known as a serious commentator, no one would listen.

  2. David Dixit says

    Judith, you are right, of course, but was it not the same curators, director and trustees who decided to sell the Holman Hunt painting ?

    Therein lies the problem…

    • David Schaff says

      In response to Mr. Dixit’s good question, one should note that (now ex) Director, Ms. Danielle Rice, had
      “left” the museum before the sales were announced. Ms. Rice continues to register unqualified opposition to
      sales, particularly of these two works which are among the most important in the DAM collections.

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