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.