While museums commonly sell works in order to buy other works – a practice known as deaccessioning – ethical standards in the field strongly prohibit sales for other purposes, like capital projects or operating costs. “Men of the Docks,” a 1912 painting of workers milling around an ocean liner docked at the Brooklyn waterfront, was the museum’s centerpiece, bought in 1920 by students who raised $2,500 for the purchase at what was then known as the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. But last month the National Gallery of Art in London announced that it had bought the painting for $25.5 million, money that will go to the college’s endowment.
“The prohibition against the sale of works of art from museum collections for such purposes is a violation of one of the most fundamental professional principles of the art museum field,” the museum directors’ association said in a statement. The sanction, one of the strongest punishments meted out by the group, asks other member museums “to suspend any loans of works of art to and any collaboration on exhibitions and programs with the Maier Museum of Art.” Member museums are not legally bound to do so but generally abide by the group’s decisions.
At the time of the sale the college said it would begin a partnership with the National Gallery of Art in which curators would lecture at Randolph and loans of the Bellows back to the Maier would be possible. Bradley W. Bateman, president of Randolph, called the deal “a remarkable opportunity to keep our connection to the Bellows” while also ensuring it stays in a public collection. But the museum association said those provisions, “however laudable they may be—do not mitigate the fact that the funds realized from this sale will be utilized for a purpose that we believe will, ultimately, be damaging to our field.”
I included a small selection of Bellows work... more here & more on this story here.