Delawarean urges art museum not to sell

 Isabella and the Pot of Basil

Isabella and the Pot of Basil

Using an opinion column as his medium, Wilmington attorney and art collector Dick Poole exhorted the Delaware Art Museum to reconsider. 

In late March, the Delaware Art Museum announced it would sell up to four works of art as part of an effort to raise $30 million. The bulk of the money would pay down the balance of the museum’s $19.8 million expansion/construction debt and increase its endowment to about $35 million. 

The column was published in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, a month after the museum named the first work of art to be sold, and almost a week before it is auctioned off at Christie’s in London.

William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil will lead the June 17th London sale. Christie’s website valued the painting at £5 million, or $8.4 million. Also rumored to be sold privately, is Winslow Homer’s Milking Time.  

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“The museum’s rightful claims to fame are its 19th- and 20th-century American art and its Pre-Raphaelite collection,” wrote Poole, who likened the museum’s collection to a three-legged stool supported by the works of Hunt, Homer and illustrator Howard Pyle. 

“Two of the three legs … will have been irreparably splintered if Isabella and Milking Time are sold,” he stated.

Critics like Philadelphia Museum of Art CEO Timothy Rub, who also serves as the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said monetizing art violates a fundamental principle within the art community to protect collections at all costs. He also warned when you sell art once, it’s easier for museums to sell again.

The museum’s board of trustees, however, said it explored all options, but none were viable. Board President Elva Ferrari-Graham added if the museum did not sell, the museum would have to close its doors for good.

Regardless of their situation, Poole said, “The museum’s curators should state publicly and forthrightly that the greater good or public trust would be served by withdrawing the museum’s masterpieces from the marketplace.”

Poole was a non-trustee member of the museum’s collections committee, until last year.

Museum CEO Mike Miller said while he respects Poole’s opinion, he had no comment regarding Poole’s commentary.

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