Despite Protests, Several Museums Sell Off Collection Artworks at Auction

  • May 19, 2021 15:30

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From the Brooklyn Museum, Mary Cassatt, Baby Charles Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder (No. 3). Sold for $1,593,000.
Thomas Cole’s “The Arch of Nero” (1846) brought $988,000 for the Newark Museum of Art.

A handful of U.S. museums sent collection artworks to the auction block at a Sotheby's American art sale that totalled $15 million on Wednesday. Women artists in the sale including Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Grandma Moses and Gertude Abercrombie brought big prices for some small-sized works overall. 

Although some of the sales could be earmarked to fund new acquisitions, the sell-off from public institutions falls within a two-year period in which museum association guidelines have been relaxed to allow for financing "direct collection care" from art sale proceeds during the current crisis.

One of the more protested sales was the Newark Museum of Art's deacessioning of Thomas Cole's allegory for the fragility of democracy, The Arch of Nero (1846), which went for $988,000 (prices include fees). Scholars wrote an open letter to museum leadership calling its intent to sell "irreparable damage" to the institution and community. A private foundation operated by the Florida-based collectors Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen was the buyer of the Cole, with plans to loan the work for public view, according to the New York Times.

Among the other 17 works sold from Newark's collections: Georgia O'Keeffe's small oil Green Oak Leaves fetched $1,169,500; Marsden Hartley's Shell dipped below estimates to $214,200; Charles Sheeler's Farm Building, Connecticut, went below estimates to bring $315,000; Albert Bierstadt's Landscape brought $81,900; Thomas Moran's Sunset Santa Maria and the Ducal Palace, Venice, sold for $352,800; Childe Hassam's Piazza di Spagna, Rome, brought $1,230,000; Thomas Eakins's (1890) Portrait of Dr. Joseph Leidy, II, rose to $352,800; and Burgoyne Miller's abstract Number 47, First Theme, trounced estimates to bring $226,800.


A Frederic Remington bronze, estimated to bring $400,000-$600,000, from the Newark Museum appears to have been passed.

From the Brooklyn Museum, Mary Cassatt's engaging Baby Charles Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder (No. 3) went for $1,593,000. The museum has already sold a number of other prized works for nearly $35 million total to cover "collection costs."

Palm Springs Art Museum sold Nicolai Fechin's Floral With Daisies for a strong $478,800; Leon Gaspard's Moonlight, Trading Post, Siberia, went for $63,000. The museum earlier sold a Helen Frankenthaler for $3.9 million.

From the Newark Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe, Green Oak Leaves, 12 by 9 inches, brought $1,169,500.

Fechin's Portrait of Anna May Wong went for $478,800 from the San Diego Museum of Art.

A noteworthy sale from a private collection was Gertrude Abercrombie's Giraffe. Estimated to bring $10,000-$15,000, the tiny painting (4 3/4 by 6 1/2 inches) reached an artist auction record of $365,400. Abercrombie's work will be highlighted in the upcoming travelling exhibition Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art.

Childe Hassam's Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918, went for $12,328,500 in Sotheby's earlier Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale. It was sold by the New-York Historical Society.

Gertrude Abercrombie, Giraffe, 4 3/4 by 6 1/2 inches, estimated to bring $10,000 - 15,000. Sold from a private collection for $365,400.

Sotheby’s made a combined $703.4 million from its contemporary, impressionist and modern art auctions last week while Christie's comparable sales series brought in more than $775.2 million.

Tags: american art

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