ARTnewsletter Archive

Opponents of Randolph College Art Sale Sue to Halt Auction

The recent decision by Randolph College (formerly Randolph Macon Woman’s College), Lynchburg, Va., to sell four pieces of art from its Maier Museum of Art collection, partly to raise operating funds for the school, continues to create criticism in the local community and beyond.

NEW YORK—The recent decision by Randolph College (formerly Randolph Macon Woman’s College), Lynchburg, Va., to sell four pieces of art from its Maier Museum of Art collection, partly to raise operating funds for the school, continues to create criticism in the local community and beyond.

On Oct. 23, 19 plaintiffs, including former museum staff, students, alumni, college and museum donors, filed a complaint in Lynchburg circuit court, asking for a halt to the planned sale of four paintings at Christie’s this month.

The artworks that are in contention, with a total estimated worth of $32/45.5 million, include: George Bellows’ Men of the Docks, 1912 (estimate: $25/35 million); Edward Hicks’ A Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1840-45 (estimate: $4/6 million); Ernest Martin Hennings’ Through the Arroyo (estimate: $1/1.5 million); and Rufino Tamayo’s Troubador, 1945 (estimate: $2/3 million). The Randolph College board said that a portion of the proceeds would be used to endow the directorship of the Maier museum.

Among the plaintiffs are former director of Randolph’s museum studies program Laura Katzman and the museum’s former associate director Ellen Agnew. Katzman, now an associate professor of art history at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., resigned in April over Randolph’s handling of the art collection; Agnew followed suit in August (ANL, 10/16/07, pp. 2-4).

The complaint cites numerous justifications for halting the sale, including guidelines adhered to by members of the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD) that require museums to use the proceeds from sales of artworks to fund further acquisitions.

The complaint also cites details about the original intent of the respective donors and artists involved. Both the AAM and the AAMD have issued specific condemnations of Randolph’s planned sale.

Two Other Suits Pending

The lawsuit further attempts to establish a connection with two other suits against Randolph that are currently pending appeal in Virginia Supreme Court. One, brought by nine female students in Oct. 2007, alleges that the school “breached its contract with Plaintiffs—to provide a four-year liberal arts program College education in an all-women’s environment”—when it decided to become a coeducational institution last summer. Furthermore, “some or all of the priceless artwork housed in . . . [the Maier Museum of Art] may be sold or placed at risk to help fund the school’s transition to coeducation,” the charges state.

An earlier suit filed in November 2006 by two students and seven donors alleges that Randolph is a “charitable corporation” and, “therefore, assets held by it are deemed to be held in trust for the public.” For this reason, voting to become coeducational, and using the assets to do so, is inconsistent with the school’s original charter. Several of the plaintiffs in these two cases are also named in the most recently filed action. Randolph spokeswoman Brenda Edson said the school had no comment on pending litigation.

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