- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Randolph College will sell four paintings from its art collection next month to support the college’s endowment, despite a legal challenge intended to keep together the 100-year-old collection.

The school’s board of trustees voted Monday to publicly auction George Bellows’ “Men of the Docks,” Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” Ernest Hennings’ “Through the Arroyo” and Rufino Tamayo’s “Troubadour,” according to an e-mail to students, alumnae and faculty from board President Lucy Hooper.

“These four paintings were chosen to provide an infusion into the college’s endowment while limiting the impact on the coherence of the collection,” Miss Hooper said.

One hundred years ago, the graduating class at what was then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College presented the school with the first piece of what would become a renowned art collection and the school’s most valuable asset.

Last month, a group of 11 instructors, donors, students and relatives of a former professor who willed money toward helping the school build its multimillion-dollar art collection filed a motion to prevent the school from selling any of the pieces.

They argued that former professor Louise Jordan Smith intended for her donation to support a permanent art display, not the school’s general endowment.

The motion was in response to an Aug. 21 filing in which the college asked the Lynchburg Circuit Court to determine whether the school legally could sell or share 36 pieces of art worth about $40 million that were bought from a trust bequeathed in Miss Smith’s will.

The sale also adds to the sense of lost tradition among alumnae created last year when the school — largely for financial reasons — agreed to accept male students.

None of the four pieces sold were bought with the trust, college spokeswoman Brenda Edson said.

“These paintings are without restriction,” she said. “Two were purchased from the college, and two were gifts. But they don’t have any restrictions on sale.”

Officials expect the auctions, which will be held through New York-based Christie’s auction house, to raise at least $32 million, Miss Edson said.

Other steps the school has taken to improve finances — in addition to making the school coeducational — minimized how much of the art collection is sold, Miss Edson said. The school changed its name to Randolph College this summer, and the first male students started classes in August.

“We’re helping ourselves limit the amount of artwork involved,” she said. “These are four paintings out of 3,500 pieces of art.”

The outcome of the auctions will determine whether the board decides to sell other pieces, Miss Hooper said.

She also said the school originally tried but failed to share the collection with another institution for compensation.

Soon after the vote Monday, which took place by phone, professional art handlers removed the pieces from the museum for security reasons, Miss Edson said.

Ellen Agnew, former associate director of the museum, who resigned in August after 23 years there, questioned the speed at which the paintings were removed on a day the museum was not open to the public.

“This is such an egregious breach of trust, of professionalism and of any kind of ethics,” she said. “I would be close to calling it an act of vandalism for this community to do this under the cloak of secrecy.”

Miss Agnew, who is part of the group seeking to halt the sale, called “Men of the Docks” the “cornerstone of the collection.”

“Its significance is beyond measure in what it symbolizes — the vision, the foresight, the dedicated purpose of Louise Jordan Smith and the students and the Lynchburg community,” she said.

Former Judge Paul Whitehead Jr., a museum docent, called the four paintings “one of the greatest teaching tools” for those who visit the museum.

“This is just a dastardly thing to do,” he said. “I’m just at a loss of words. … This is a terrible, terrible deed done to the students, the townspeople and everybody who enjoys the collection.”

Miss Edson said that the decision to sell was difficult, but that trustees did what they thought was in the college’s best interest.

“It’s going to provide so much more opportunity for us to provide things for students and to really ensure that 20 years from now, 100 years from now, the college is flourishing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals from some students, alumnae and donors challenging Randolph College’s move to coeducation. It is not known when they will be heard.

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