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Ball point pen on the morning newsprint

The Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey is a small gem of a museum. It houses fine examples of the Hudson River School, and works by three of my favorite painters, John Singer Sargent, William Merrit Chase, and Thomas Eakins. Controversy erupted this week when the Museum planned to sell more than 50 pieces from it's collection, including a portrait of the Museum's founder, William B. Dickson painted by the great William Merrit Chase. The grandchildren of Dickson are outraged. The painting has roots in the community and is part of the museum's history. Dickerson not only founded the Museum but was a former vice president of US Steel and a long time resident of Montclair. Chase of coarse was a great painter and teacher. He founded his own school in 1896 across the river in New York's Greenwich Village that would later become Parsons School of Design (my alma mater). The family can't understand why the museum would no longer want the painting, but having donated it, would like it returned to the family. The museum says it has the right to sell the painting because it was an unrestricted gift.

Legally the museum may be right, but critics claim it is breaking a museum code of ethics by selling works to pay it's bills. Works altruistically donated to be enjoyed by the public. I can't help siding with the family in thinking that Montclair Art Museum is the logical home for this portrait.

UPDATE: 5/16/09 From the front page of todays Star Ledger: Montclair Art Museum has decided not to place said portrait up for auction.

4 Comments
  1. May 15, 2009 -

    That seems to be a perennial problem with museums--a number of schools have been faced with possibly selling paintings to keep the museum open. Difficult dilemma. I love this--and those artists are some of my favorites. My younger sister used to live in Upper Montclair. Now she lives in Clinton, NJ.

  2. May 15, 2009 -

    I wonder how many works would be donated if the philanthropist knew up front the art would be sold to pay it's bills. UPDATE: 5/16/09 The Museum has reconsidered it's decision and is no longer auctioning off the painting.

  3. David Carswell
    July 20, 2009 -

    My Great Grandfather was William B. Dickson. My father was very close to him as they lived together for many years in Montclair and Highland Croft in New Hampshire. My father was very clear as to "Dixie's" wishes - which in short preserve and protect.

  4. July 20, 2009 -

    Hi David, I'm glad that the above story had a happy outcome. Your Great Grandfather was a fine man.