By Associated Press - Sunday, December 1, 2019

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - Officials at a northern Indiana museum say it was “a very pleasant shock” that a 19th-century sculpture it had owned for more than 40 years ago recently sold at auction for $7.55 million, exceeding estimates for the work.

The Ruthmere Museum’s 1894 limestone sculpture by French artist Auguste Rodin sold on Nov. 12 at Sotheby’s New York gallery.

Bill Firstenberger, the museum’s executive director, said the final selling price had surpassed Sotheby’s initial estimates, which was between $4 million and $6 million before the auction began.

“It was a shock that it sold for that much. A very pleasant shock,” Firstenberger said.

Profits from the sale of the Rodin sculpture, named La Cariatide Tombée Portant Sa Pierre, or The Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone, will help build a $10 million endowment for the Elkhart museum.

The proceeds will also pay for overhauls that museum officials had wanted to address but lacked the necessary cash.

But the sale comes with mixed feelings for the people at Ruthmere.

“This is absolutely a one-off, one-time decision thing. There is no appetite or desire to see what else we can get for something else. It’s never been done before and we hope it’s never ever needed to be done again,” Firstenberger said.

In addition to the endowment, he added the sale could show donors that the museum is serious about not wasting resources.

“We don’t want to capriciously sit on a resource that’s not only draining some of that resource away but could be used toward the goal,” he said.

Firstenberger noted that none of the museum’s top donors have said the sale was a bad idea or indicated they would stop their financial support, adding that he feels confident it was right decision.

“We’ve had it for 40 years. We’ve been the stewards of it for 40 years and were able to share it with everyone,” he said. “It was time for it to serve a new purpose.”

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