The Delaware Art Museum has revealed that the Pre-Raphaelite painting "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" by William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) will be the first artwork to be deaccessioned in a controversial decision to pay off the museum's debt and replenish its endowment.
The painting will be sold through Christie’s at its June 17 auction of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, and British Impressionist Art in London. "Isabella and the Pot of Basil" was purchased in 1947 using general art acquisition funds.
Three other works will also be sold within the next several months, possibly including Winslow Homer's "Milking Time," one of the museum's most treasured works. The Homer disappeared from its gallery space and the collections database last month.
"Isabella and the Pot of Basil," which Hunt complete in 1868, illustrates a John Keats poem of the same name. The scene depicts Isabella mourning over a basil pot altar which holds the head of her lover, Lorenzo, who was murdered by her brothers. Her tears flow over the tomb.
Hunt's wife, Fanny, was a model for Isabella. She died during childbirth two years before the painting was finished.
In a statement issued by the Delaware Art Museum:
The Museum’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on March 26, 2014, to deaccession and sell up to four works of art from the museum’s 12,500-object collection. The funds generated from the sale, projected to be $30 million, will repay the full balance of the museum’s $19.8 million bond debt and replenish the endowment, which will place the Museum on a firm financial basis for the future. The sale of the other works of art will be finalized and announced in the coming months. No works of art acquired through gift or bequest will be sold.