Museums USA

US college museum sanctioned for selling work to London’s National Gallery

Association of Art Museum Directors has advised its members to suspend loans and collaborations with the Maier Museum in Virginia

The National Gallery, London, purchased Men of the Docks, 1912, from the Maier Museum for $25.5m in February

The board of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has voted to sanction the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College in Virginia for selling a painting by George Bellows to support the college’s general operating budget. As part of the sanctions, the AAMD will advise its 236 members, who lead museums in the US, Canada and Mexico, to suspend any loans or planned collaborations with the Maier Museum. The college museum itself is not a member of the AAMD.

The National Gallery, London, purchased Men of the Docks, 1912, from the Maier Museum for $25.5m in February. The UK institution describes the picture of the Brooklyn waterfront as its first major American painting. In addition to the sale, the two museums formed a partnership that would allow students from Randolph College to travel to London for internships and bring National Gallery curators to the US college to give lectures.

In a statement, the AAMD said that while it appreciates Randolph College’s decision to sell the work to a public institution, the effort does not mitigate the fact that “funds realised from this sale will be utilised for a purpose that we believe will… be damaging to our field”.

The AAMD censured the Maier Museum (a less stringent step than the current sanctions) in 2008 after it sold Rufino Tamayo’s Trovador, 1945, at Christie’s for $7.2m to shore up the college’s endowment. Around the same time, three additional paintings—the work by Bellows, The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks and Through the Arroyo by Ernest Martin Hennings—were earmarked for sale. The latter two have yet to be sold.

The college originally purchased Men of the Docks in 1920, after students, faculty and the Board of Trustees raised $2,500 to buy it directly from the artist. When the college decided to deacession Bellows's painting and the other works, a group including former students fought to save them and the museum’s director, Karol Lawson, resigned in protest.

A representative form the National Gallery had no comment, and the Maier Museum did not immediately respond for a request for comment. In an interview with the Roanoke Times last month, the president of Randolph College, Bradley Bateman, defended the decision to sell the painting. Organisations like the AAMD “have a single position and they don’t want anyone to think about these issues in any way other than the way they want you to think about it,” he said.

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24 Mar 14
16:19 CET


It's all very well for the AAMD to recognise that the painting ended up in public ownership but that doesn't seem to have affected their censure which is mostly about where the funds are directed. Their tacit ticking off of the National Gallery is also unpalatable unless they would also like to comment on the Kimbell acquisition of Worcester College, Oxford's sale of its major Jacob Ruysdael painting.

19 Mar 14
16:33 CET


For God's sake, can't we keep anything that is distinctly American in this country? Some people would sell their souls for a buck. Way to honor one of our great American artists... send his work off to the Brits in the BAGGAGE COMPARTMENT. Good for the ones who saved the others. Tough for the students... they can study right here instead of getting free vacations to London. Such bull roar!

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