The Delaware Art Museum, which came under fire in 2014 for deciding to sell up to four works of art to pay down its debt, has announced that with the private sales of paintings by Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer it has completed the process.
In 2014, the museum was censured by the Association of Art Museum Directors — losing its accreditation and ability to receive works on loan from other museums — after it sold William Holman Hunt's Isabella and the Pot of Basil for $4.25 million. In separate private sales, the museum then sold Alexander Calder's mobile Black Crescent last fall and Arthur Cleveland by Wyeth and Milking Time by Homer earlier this year for undisclosed sums. In a statement, the museum said no work of art acquired through gift or bequest was sold and noted that the sales enabled it to fully repay the $19.8 million it owed to creditors without significantly depleting its endowment. The museum's board had voted to sell the works with the hope of raising $30 million — enough to repay the balance of the bond debt it incurred as part of a 2005 expansion and renovation while protecting its endowment.
While museums often sell art to buy other works, selling pieces to pay for operations or capital projects is widely considered a violation of the museum code of ethics, the New York Times notes, as well as a betrayal of a museum's charge to hold art in the public trust.
"Today, we close one of the most difficult chapters in the story of the Delaware Art Museum," said museum CEO Mike Miller. "We reached our most important goal — keeping the museum open and thriving. We are very grateful for those who have understood the arduous and complex decisions that we encountered during this long and challenging phase. There has been overwhelming and unyielding support for protecting and preserving this beautiful museum for our community."