US museum directors 'decry' Bellows sale

Men of the Docks, 1912, by George Bellows The BBC's Will Gompertz called the 1912 Bellows painting "an evocative, beautiful picture in the realist school"

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The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has sanctioned the Maier Museum of Art for selling George Bellows' Men of the Docks to the National Gallery.

The 1912 painting was purchased by the London gallery in early February.

The museum paid £15.6m ($25.5m) for the artwork. The money will go towards operating costs at Randolph College in Virginia, which owns the Maier Museum.

AAMD, which represents 236 directors of leading US art museums, called upon the college "to stop this practice".

The Association was it was "deeply disturbed to learn of Randolph College's continuing sale of works of art from the collection of its Maier Museum of Art to provide general operating funds for the College".

"The prohibition against the sale of works of art from museum collections for such purposes is a violation of one of the most fundamental professional principles of the art museum field," a statement said.

'Other solutions'

The AAMD said it initially contacted Randolph College in 2007 when its intention to sell off works from the college-owned Maier Museum was first made public.

The Association said it offered help by investigating other means by which the college could tackle its financial shortfall.

But in 2008 the college sold a Rufino Tamayo painting, Trovador, prompting the AAMD to censure the Maier Museum "to signal its objection to this action" and "discourage" further sales from the collection.

Following last month's Bellows sale, it once again sought "to encourage the College to find other solutions" to support their operating costs.

The college's unwillingness to alter their course led to the announcement of sanctions, which calls on all AAMD member museums to suspend loans to the Maier Museum and refuse collaboration on joint exhibitions.

"We appreciate both the College's decision to sell Men of the Docks to a public institution, thus ensuring that this work will remain in the public domain, and the educational exchange that the College and the purchaser of the painting, the National Gallery of Art in London, are launching," the statement continued.

"Nevertheless, these steps - however laudable they may be - do not mitigate the fact that the funds realised from this sale will be utilised for a purpose that we believe will, ultimately, be damaging to our field," it added.

The Bellows purchase marked the National Gallery's first major acquisition of a painting by an American artist.

"We feel proud that an international audience will now become more aware of Randolph and our long stewardship of Men of the Docks," college president Bradley W Bateman said at the time of the sale.

The painting, the final in a series depicting workers gathered on an icy day on the New York waterfront, will hang alongside Impressionists like Monet and Pissarro in the London gallery.

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