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La Salle University Faces Backlash Over Planned Sale of Artworks

4 January 2018
Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), Sandy Hollow, Manchester, Massachusetts, 1877, is set to be sold by La Salle University.
Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), Sandy Hollow, Manchester, Massachusetts, 1877, is set to be sold by La Salle University.
(La Salle University Art Museum)

La Salle University in Philadelphia announced plans this week to sell 46 artworks from its museum collections to help fund teaching and learning initiatives, according to school officials.

The art, includings works by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Georges Rouault, and Albert Gleizes, could raise more than $7 million, based on estimates provided by Christie's.

Five works are expected to bring the most at the sale: Dame Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture Walking Madonna;  Ingres’ Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus from 1865; Dorothea Tanning’s Temptation of St. Anthony; Rouault’s Le Dernier Romantique (The Last Romantic); and Gleizes’ Man in the City (L’Homme Dans la Ville). 

A total of 36 works of the 46 slated for sale are on view in the private university's art museum. Ten other works come from storage. Most of the deaccessions are European paintings, along with several American works including pieces by William Trost Richards, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Alex Katz and John Koch.

The university cited a budget shortfall from declining enrollment and a deficit as factors in the decision.

Those in the local art community have been shocked by the planned sale. “This sort of feels like they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it’s going to change the museum,” said Ron Rumford, director of Dolan/Maxwell, private art dealers in Philadelphia, to

“Is a gain of $4.8 to $7.3 million in operating funds really a game-changer for the university, or will this simply leave its museum — which is acknowledged as being an enormously valuable resource for faculty and students — weakened?” Timothy Rub, head of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and past president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, posed to

Continued Rub, “It’s one thing to use deaccessioning [the sale of artworks] as a means for strengthening the collection by ‘trading up.’ Indeed, the [Association of Art Museum Directors] guidelines provide for that. But it’s another to use the funds for something else entirely, and not necessarily a good thing either for the museum or the university.”