National Gallery’s first American painting arrives in London with baggage
Painting of Brooklyn waterfront by George Bellows is a controversial deaccession by a US college
By Javier Pes. Web only
Published online: 07 February 2014
The National Gallery, London, has purchased George Bellows’s Men of the Docks, 1912, unveiling its new acquisition today, 7 February. Acquiring the work showing stevedores and a ship docked in Brooklyn is a coup—it is the first major American painting to enter the nation’s collection.
But the news may be bitter sweet for those who believe that the painting should never have left the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is part of Randolph College. It had been purchased in 1920 and hung in the museum until 2007, when the college's trustees decided to sell it along with three other paintings to boost the institution's endowment. A group including former students fought to save the Bellows and the other works from being deacessioned, and the museum’s director, Karol Lawson, resigned in protest at the decision.
Bradley W. Bateman, the president of Randolph College, is delighted that the Bellows has gone to a public collection with such an international audience. A new partnership between the college and the National Gallery will see curators and its director, Nicholas Penny, visiting to deliver lectures and its students will travel to London for internships. He also says that there is an “agreement in principal” that the painting could return on temporary loan to the US college. Founded for women-only in 1891, it turned co-ed in 2006.
A spokeswoman for the National Gallery declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the deaccessioning of Bellows’s painting by the college, saying: “Randolph College is first and foremost a college, and this sale helps to ensure the institution’s long-term sustainability. The National Gallery is delighted to be working with them on this and acquiring this picture.”
In a statement, the director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, said that in its new home “visitors—many of them from North America—will understand [Bellows] in a different way” citing the artist’s debt to Manet and Goya. The work now hangs alongside paintings by Monet and Pissarro.
The National Gallery purchased the work for $25.5m with a grant from its American Friends made possible by the Sir Paul Getty Fund and a private appeal. The New York-based art dealer and Old Master specialist Rachel Kaminsky acted as a special adviser to the National Gallery in its search for American paintings worthy to hang alongside its European masterpieces.
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