Brooklyn Museum Sells Off More Artworks By High-Profile Artists

Brooklyn Museum is getting ready to sell deaccessioned works by Monet, Miró, Matisse, Degas, and other high-profile artists.

Oct 16, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Left: Le Messager, Jean Dubuffet, 1961, via Sotheby’s. Right: The Isles at Port-Villez, Claude Monet, 1897, via Brooklyn Museum

Sotheby’s announced that it is going to offer a selection of deaccessioned impressionist and modern artworks from the Brooklyn Museum. These include high-profile works by Claude Monet, Jean Dubuffet, Edgar Degas, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, and Carlo Mollino. The auctions will take place in New York on October 28.

The announcement came a day after Christie’s auctioned 10 Old Master paintings also coming from the Brooklyn Museum. The museum says it will use the proceeds to fund the care of its collections.

Brooklyn Museum’s Deaccessioning Plan

The Isles at Port-Villez, Claude Monet, 1897, via Wikimedia Commons

On October 15, Christie’s sold the first wave of the Brooklyn Museum’s deaccessioned paintings. The auction was led by Lucas Carnach’s Lucretia which sold for $5.1 million. The group of 10 paintings fetched a total of $6.6 million.

On October 16, Sotheby’s announced it will sell more works from the museum including Claude Monet’s Les Îles à Port-Villez. According to Sotheby’s, this second wave of sales could surpass $18 million.

The deaccessions are part of the museum’s long-term plan to raise $40 million for the care of its collections. In this way, the Brooklyn Museum hopes to achieve financial stability in a period of uncertainty for the sector.

These deaccessions are possible only due to a recent relaxation of museum guidelines. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced in April that, for the next two years, museums could sell works in holdings and use the proceeds for “direct care”. Each museum would have relative freedom of defining “direct care”.

According to the Brooklyn Museum’s Collection Policy, direct care entails: “activities that enhance the life, usefulness, or quality of the collection, thereby ensuring that it will continue to benefit the public for years to come.” Such activities can include anything related to the conservation and storage of the collection including staff salaries.

Brooklyn Museum’s deaccessioning plan is taking full advantage of the new museum guidelines. According to a statement by Anne Pasternak, Brooklyn Museum’s director:

“This effort is designed to support one of the most important functions of any museum – the care for its collection –and comes after several years of focused effort by the Museum to build a plan to strengthen its collections, repatriate objects, advance provenance research, improve storage, and more.”

Museums Deaccession Their Collections

Seated Nude Woman Drying Her Hair, Edgar Degas, ca 1902, via Wikimedia Commons

After its announcement in September, the museum’s deaccessioning plan has received heavy criticism from many professionals in the sector. Nevertheless, more and more institutions are now following the Brooklyn Museum’s example.

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This month, the Everson Museum of Art sold a Pollock painting for $13 million. The Palm Springs Art Museum in California has similar plans for a Frankenthaler painting. Furthermore, the Baltimore Museum of Art will sell paintings by Still and Marden as well as Warhol’s monumental Last Supper.

BMA’s deaccession plans have proven especially controversial. Former trustees have asked for the State’s intervention after finding legal and ethical issues in the museum’s deaccession plans. They have also complained that Warhol’s Last Supper is being offered at “bargain-basement price”.

Brooklyn Museum has avoided similar problems so far, even though its plans remain controversial. Besides, the institution has made it clear that it is not selling artworks that are important for its collection.

Brooklyn Museum’s Artworks At Sale

jean-dubuffet-messager-messenger-painting-brooklyn -museum
Le Messager, Jean Dubuffet, 1961, via Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s will sell the first group of artworks during its “Contemporary” and “Impressionist and Modern” auctions on October 28 in New York. It will also auction other works on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum throughout November. The combined presale estimates surpass $18 million.

The “Impressionist and Modern” art sale leads Claude Monet’s Les Îles à Port-Villez (est. $2.5-3.5 million). Joan Miró’s Couple d’amoureux dans la nuit (est. $1.2-1.8 million) reflects influences from Japan and was the artist’s response to Abstract Expressionism.

The group complete Henri Matisse’s Carrefour de Malabry (est. $800,000-1.2 million) and Edgar Degas’ Femme nue assise s’essuyant les cheveux (est. $1-1.5 million).

The “Contemporary” sale will include two paintings by Jean Dubuffet, each estimated between $2.5-$3.5 million. Le Messager presents a character from the artist’s Paris Circus series. Rue Tournique Bourlique is an example from his L’Hourloupe cycle.

The contemporary sale will also feature a design work – the Dining Table by Carlo Mollino (est. $1.5-2 million).

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By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA) where he is currently working on his PhD.