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PAFA’s Folly: “Off-the-Wall” Deaccessions

“Masterpiece” Turned Merchandise: William Merritt Chase, “Autumn Still Life”

In my May 1990 article for ARTnews magazine—“How Permanent is the Permanent Collection?”—I coined the term “off-the-wall deaccessions” to describe disposals of works important enough to the selling institutions to have been recently shown on their own walls.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts still hasn’t responded to my repeated requests for information about time spent on the walls of PAFA’s permanent collection galleries by the 10 deaccessioned works that it has recently sold or consigned to dealers for sale. But it did provide me with a list of the works’ inclusion in special exhibitions over the past three decades. (You can see the images of nine of the 10 deaccessioned paintings at the above link, with the above-pictured Chase, illustrating my initial Ditzy Deaccessions post about PAFA’s market maneuvers.)

Among other things, PAFA’s compilation reveals that Twachtman‘s “Flowers,” Childe Hassam‘s “Looking over Frenchman’s Bay at Green Mountain,” Prendergast‘s “Bathers in a Cove” and Ernest Lawson‘s “Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia,” were all displayed in a widely traveled 1990s exhibition, “Light, Air And Color: American Impressionist Paintings From The Pennsylvania Academy Of The Fine Arts.”

Robinson‘s “Girl at Piano” was shown in 2004-2005 as part of “Theodore Robinson: Painting at Giverny,” seen at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum, and Wadsworth Athenaeum. Chase’s “Autumn Still Life” was deemed worthy of the title “masterpiece,” in “Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life,” seen at, among other places, the Baltimore Museum and the National Academy in New York.

In other words, to bankroll today’s curatorial spending sprees, PAFA sold historic works that its own curators had previously valued enough to include in special exhibitions (and probably also in the museum’s permanent-collection displays).

But wait. There’s more! The complete exhibition histories that PAFA sent to me last week for its recent “off-the-wall” deaccessions are here.

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