Eakins portraits of bygone Philadelphia clerics going up for sale

 A person views Thomas Eakins' 'The Gross Clinic' at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, on Jan. 5, 2007. Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary of the Philadelphia Archdiocese plans to sell five portraits of early 20th century religious leaders by Eakins on the open market. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A person views Thomas Eakins' 'The Gross Clinic' at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, on Jan. 5, 2007. Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary of the Philadelphia Archdiocese plans to sell five portraits of early 20th century religious leaders by Eakins on the open market. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Five paintings by the artist Thomas Eakins could be sold away from Philadelphia.

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary of the Philadelphia Archdiocese plans to sell the portraits of early 20th century religious leaders on the open market.

Late in life, Eakins became interested in theology, often spending time in long conversations with seminarians. He painted portraits of several.

Right now, the archdiocese is planning a major consolidation and renovation of the seminary’s 75-acre campus ion Wynnewood.  It will shrink to a single building on 35 acres. The sale of five of those portraits will go toward the cost of renovation, expected to be tens of millions of dollars.

The seminary received most of the paintings as gifts more than 80 years ago. Rector Bishop Timothy Senior said, as the seminary moves forward, it cannot take care of the art.

“The seminary is not a museum. It’s not consistent with our mission to put resources into that,” said Senior. “Plus, the opportunity is there to take the value of the paintings and place it at the service of the mission in a more concrete way.”

Senior could not say how much the paintings are expected to generate on the private market. Christie’s will arrange the sale.

In 2006, Eakins’ masterpiece “The Gross Clinic” generated much interest when Thomas Jefferson University announced it would sell it to a museum in Arkansas. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts scrambled to pull together $68 million to keep the painting in Philadelphia.

So far, the set of religious portraits has not elicited that degree of urgency.

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