Look Out Bellows

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Men of the Docks, George Bellows, 1912/MAIER MUSEUM

A few months ago, writing about the prolonged battled over whether Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va. could sell some of the work from its Maier Museum, I said that the whole thing had turned into one of those movie serial cliffhangers, with regular new chapters in which one side or the other was holding on by its fingertips. This time it’s opponents of the sale who went off the cliff, at least for now.

On Friday, they withdrew their suit to halt the sale of four paintings, including Men of the Docks by George Bellows, which the college had consigned for auction at Christie’s last fall. (As I’ve said, a bad idea.) That sale was temporarily blocked by a Virginia judge. (A good idea.) But the judge also required the opponents to post a bond, eventually set at $1 million by an appeals court, to compensate Randolph if their suit failed. They never posted the full amount, and on Friday they dropped the suit. They’re still pursuing a separate suit to undo the recent conversion of Randolph, formerly a woman’s college, to a co-ed school. Their fallback position now is that their other suit will have the effect — if it’s successful — of protecting all of the art in the Maier, not just the four paintings at issue in the suit they dropped. That’s a big if. Christa Desrets of the Lynchburg News & Advance explains what happened Friday. Over on his Art Law Blog, Donn Zaretsky, who had been expecting something like this, diagrams the developments that led him to expect it.

Meanwhile, over Randolph, they must be nervously watching the air go out of the art market while their unsold paintings sit in storage, still tied to the railroad tracks while the train comes bearing down.