The cover of the catalog of Christie‚??s auction features the Delaware Art Museum‚??s ‚??Isabella and the Pot of Basil.‚?Ě The painting sold for $4.25 million on Tuesday. / Christie‚??s
WILMINGTON, Del. -- The Delaware Art Museum lost its accreditation and its ability to receive loaned works from many museums Wednesday, one day after the museum sold one of its most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings to help pay its bills.
A committee of the American Alliance of Museums, a national museum advocacy organization, voted unanimously Wednesday to remove the Delaware museum's accreditation.
While the move is largely procedural with no immediate impact on patrons, it signals to the larger arts community that the museum is "an outlier and an institution that does not conform to accepted standards of the field," said alliance spokesman Dewey Blanton. It also could harm the museum's efforts to solicit donations from certain foundations and philanthropists, he said.
Also Wednesday, the national Association of Art Museum Directors advised its members to stop loaning works to the Delaware Art Museum and collaborating on exhibitions. This means the Delaware museum is limited in hosting traveling exhibitions from other museums, or in loaning its holdings to other museums, damaging its national exposure.
AAMD sanctions are guidelines, so member museum directors have the flexibility to make their own decisions, said AAMD President Susan Taylor.
"With this sale, the museum is treating its works from its collection as disposable assets, rather than irreplaceable cultural heritage that it holds in trust for people now and in the future," the AAMD, representing 242 members in North America, said in a statement. "It is also sending a clear signal to its audiences that private support is unnecessary, since it can always sell additional items from its collection to cover its costs."
The Delaware Art Museum's first painting up for auction, William Holman Hunt's Isabella and the Pot of Basil, sold for $4.25 million in London Tuesday, a record for a Holman Hunt work but far short of Christie's low estimate of $8.4 million. The buyer's name was not disclosed. With additional buyer's fees, the museum could recoup nearly $4.6 million from the deal.
Christie's initial sales estimate for the 1868 painting, which headlined the auction, was $8.4 million to $13.4 million.
Museum CEO Mike Miller said in an email that leaders were disappointed by the sanctions but did not expect them to have a "significant" impact on exhibitions for the next few years, because the schedule is planned in advance. The sanctions do not apply to exhibitions already in the pipeline.
"We take comfort in knowing that the museum will remain open and continue to serve our community," he continued. "We also take comfort from the overwhelming positive responses from our members and community supporters."
Both museum associations threatened sanctions earlier this year, after the museum announced it would sell as many as four works to raise $30 million to repay construction debt on a 2005 facilities expansion and replenish the endowment, a nonprofit organization's lifeline.
The other works slated to be sold have not been announced. But Winslow Homer's 1875 Milking Time and Alexander Calder's 1959 Black Crescent mobile have disappeared from the Wilmington museum's galleries and database. The museum has committed not to sell any work acquired by gift or bequest. Art experts have speculated that the controversy surrounding the sales could prevent the museum from reaching its financial goal without selling even more art.
Both the AAM and AAMD chastised the museum for violating core professional ethics by selling art to support operations, rather than using the money for new art acquisitions. The AAMD wrote it had no choice but to ask members to withhold loans and exhibition partnerships until the sanctions are suspended or removed.
Associations can impose censure, sanctions or revoke licensure but ultimately can't prevent a museum from selling its prized art. It is unclear how long the Delaware museum sanctions will remain or when the museum can reapply for accreditation, since the terms vary.
When the National Academy Museum in New York sold two Hudson River School paintings in 2008 to keep its finances afloat, the AAMD imposed similar sanctions for nearly two years. The sanctions were lifted only after the museum demonstrated better financial planning and management. But the association still punished the academy by imposing a five-year probationary period.
Taylor said the National Academy got a reprieve after it worked with the AAMD on policies that would preclude the institution from selling its cultural assets in the future.
"There's really no deadline for the sanctions to be lifted," said Taylor, who also directs the New Orleans Museum of Art. "It's so rare, there's really no average length of time."
In the meantime, representatives from granting agencies to the Delaware museum said the loss of accreditation would not jeopardize funding.
Similarly, Delaware Division of the Arts Director Paul Weagraff said in an email that museum association sanctions are "not a criterion for funding decisions for Delaware's arts organizations." The state division has granted more than $762,000 to the museum since fiscal 2008, in addition to $186,000 in federal funds.
"While accreditation indicates a level of approval by the corresponding membership organization, what's most important in our funding consideration is that the organization...continues to provide quality arts programming that serves Delawareans and visitors alike," he said.
Read the original story: 'Outlier' Delaware Art Museum shunned by art groups