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April Showers: 28 La Salle University Deaccessions in Three Christie’s Auctions (with estimates)

Without a press release, let alone any fanfare, Christie’s has now published the complete catalogue information (including presale estimates) for 28 of the 46 works that were deaccessioned by La Salle University to bankroll its “five-year strategic plan, whose overarching goal is exceptional student outcomes resulting from deeply engaged, integrated, innovative high-impact teaching and learning,” in the words of Christie’s online essay about the sale.

Below is the work in the April sales bearing, by far, the highest estimate. I had featured it at the top of my initial post last January about La Salle’s deplorable deaccessions.

I can now reveal (in the caption) what the auction house expects this will bring:

Ingres, “Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus,” 1865
Presale estimate: $600,000-1 million

For some reason, Christie’s assigned this painting a different date (1864, instead of 1865) and a different title (deleting “Before Augustus”) than was provided by La Salle in the deaccession checklist that it released in January.

At the top of its promotional essay, the auction house had the gall to feature an image of the museum’s founder, Brother Daniel Burke, who (in Christie’s words) “believ[ed] that students should be able to experience quality art [emphasis added] on their own campus, and not just read about it in textbooks.”

Now that a big chunk of the best of La Salle University Art Museum’s “quality art” has been wrested from its premises, Brother Daniel must be flailing in his grave. Using his image to promote the sales is an insult to his memory.

Daniel Burke at La Salle University Art Museum with Tintoretto, “Portrait of a Gentleman”
Presale estimate: $50,000-70,000

Assuming there is no intervention by the Attorney General (more on that, below), the first wave of La Salle’s disposals is to be offered at Christie’s 19th Century European Sale, Apr. 18 (5 lots) and its Old Masters Sales on Apr. 19—Part I (7 lots) and Part II (16 lots).

My guess is that Christie’s may be low-keying these sales because as soon as the general public gets wind of the fact that the auction house is proceeding, the sale opponents will raise a ruckus. The resulting uproar could plant doubt in the minds of potential buyers as to whether they want to be party to such a controversial violation of museum ethics and whether they want to assist the university’s administration in depriving its students and faculty of an important academic resource.

Colleen Hanycz, President, La Salle University

Speaking of which, in a letter posted on the Friends of the La Salle Art Museum’s Facebook page, the university’s History Department faculty has now joined the Faculty Senate and Art History chair in blasting the sales.

On a more positive note, tonight marks the opening reception for an exhibition at La Salle’s museum, “Beyond Cubism: European Modern Prints, 1920s-1960s” (to June 15). But surprisingly, there appears to be no information about the exhibition on the museum’s website, other than a brief listing, and there are no museum news releases more recent than February 2015—further evidence of neglect.

As reported by Stephan Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer (on Mar. 16, three days after my sources had tipped me off), the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office revealed that it was reviewing La Salle’s planned disposals. My query this afternoon to the AG’s spokesperson as to the status of this review yielded this brief response:

The Office of Attorney General is reviewing the sale.

Whether a sale can proceed under such legally ambiguous circumstances is questionable (as witness what happened with the Berkshire Museum’s much-delayed sale plans). There’s not much of a window for the AG to conclude his review.

When I know more, you’ll know more.

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