Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has sold another Eakins. This time it’s the 1874 Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand, which went for a reported $20 million or so to Alice Walton’s still-under-construction Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. Jefferson is the same medical school that sold the great Eakins canvas The Gross Clinic earlier this year in a joint deal to both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It’s a loss for Philadelphia, no doubt. But can Jefferson really be blamed? I have a piece on the general phenomenon of de-accessioning coming up in the issue of Time that appears on newstands tomorrow, so I won’t go into the ins and outs of the entire issue here. But it’s worth noting that though the American Association of Museums (AAM) has guidelines that discourage deaccessioning for the purpose of funneling money into a school’s general revenues, as Jefferson is doing with the millions from its Eakins sales, Jefferson does not actually have a campus museum, at least not in the way that, say, Yale, Harvard or Fisk all do. Much of its collection consists of portraits of distinguished faculty hung in various hallways. (In 1982, the school’s three canvases by Eakins were moved to their own gallery, however, along a with a few other pieces.)
I put in a call this morning to Lisa Tremper Hanover, the president of the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries, an AAM affiliate, to see if Jefferson was in a different category from other schools with a clearly established on-campus museum. She agreed readily that it was. As a consequence, she said, the school was freer to dispose of its holdings as it saw fit.
For the record, Hanover, who is director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, is not somebody who takes de-accessioning lightly. So wherever you are Philip and Muriel, rest easy.