Delaware Art Museum confirms eventual sale of ‘Milking Time’

"Milking Time" by Winslow Homer. (courtesy of The Delaware Art Museum)

The Delaware Art Museum will auction two additional paintings as part of their ongoing efforts to get out of debt.

On Thursday, the Delaware Art Museum’s Board of Trustees confirmed rumors that Winslow Homer’s 1875 painting “Milking Time” will be sold. The museum has also removed Alexander Calder’s 1958 work “Black Crescent” from its permanent collection.

Wilmington attorney and respected art collector Dick Poole has led the charge against the rumored plans – now confirmed – to sell “Milking Time.” Poole said that painting was one of the cornerstones of the museum’s 19th-century American collection.

Poole wrote in a Wilmington News Journal editorial, “Picture me on my knees begging. I entreat the Delaware Art Museum trustees not to sell Winslow Homer’s ‘Milking Time.’”

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Museum leaders won’t comment on the process or a time frame for the sale of “Milking Time” or “Black Crescent.”

Less than expected

In June, the museum sold William Holman Hunt’s painting “Isabella and The Pot of Basil” via Christie’s auction house. The painting, which dates to 1868, fetched a much lower price than originally expected.

Original projections expected the auction to fetch between $8 million and $13 million. The actual sale price was almost half that, bringing in approximately $4.8 million.

One day after that sale, the Association of Art Museum Directors sanctioned the Delaware Art Museum, urging AAMD members to suspend any loans or collaborations with the museum.

The American Alliance of Museums also stripped the museum’s accreditation status on the day “Isabella and The Pot of Basil” was sold.

Bad timing

The museum’s financial difficulties stem in part from the 2008 housing crisis. The impact of increasingly restrictive banking regulations following the crisis triggered a series of events that caused the Delaware Art Museum to default on requirements related to bonds issued in 2003.

The $24.8 million in tax-exempt bonds funded a renovation and expansion of the musuem’s historic building on Kentmere Parkway. That work was completed in mid-2005.

The bonds were initially due to be paid in full by 2037. As the bonds were guaranteed through a bank letter of credit which must be renewed every two years, the tighter credit standards following the economic downturn required accelerated payments on the debt.

The downturn also hurt the museum’s endowment, which suffered a decline in the stock market.

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