MIA Shamefully to Sell Masterpiece by Bouguereau by ARC Staff

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MIA Shamefully to Sell Masterpiece by Bouguereau

ARC Staff

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

ARC's final word on this shameful episode in museum history

We didn't save Bohémienne, but perhaps the next time modernist ideologue trustees running some museum board will think twice before they try to sell a great traditional humanist painting beloved by the public ... that very public which their tax exempt status is supposed to serve.

Some people see beauty in life and others see only its shadows. And then there are those who see beauty even in the shadows. From that small group come a miniscule number that write the great poetry and music of their day. The very greatest, the true genius, can generally be counted on one hand during any half century. The latter half of the 19th century was a unique exception, in that there never was a greater proliferation of great art and artists in the world. Expanding democracy, respect for individual human rights, and a powerful economic and industrial expansion throughout Europe and America, proved irresistible, and produced the greatest era ever for the arts.

And amongst painters, millions recognize that Bouguereau was the brightest and the best. And his best work, from his best period, with his best subject matter, is a rare and valuable commodity. Bohémienne was just such a work. It lifted spirits, taught compassion for the homeless, the poor and the different ... love for our children, ... respect for the arts ... and helped expose the injustices of its time. Incumbent is it upon those who view her to come to her aid and it is into our hands and trust that the artist did commit his and her soul. Implicit is the moral imperative not to betray that trust. Only by performing that sacred duty can we insure the preservation of our own souls, and so too our children. Such was the message of this work.

This was a terrible symbolic event that overwhelming popular will could not prevent. The preservation of our way of life is what is really at stake. For if this great masterpiece can be thrown to the winds by the willful spite, of a handful of cultural "elites," what next might we find piled on the ash heap of history? ...Chaucer? ...Dickens? ...Beethoven? ...Chopin? ...Homer? ...Locke?

Which writers, poets, composers, philosophers or prophets, will the runaway vengeful nihilist scalpel next cut down in its cultural prime or poetic glory?

Goodbye sweet gypsy, you and your creator may have succumbed, but you were much loved and will surely be remembered.

— Fred Ross, Chairman of the Art Renewal Center

Postscript from an ARC correspondent

I've been reading through the Goodart posts about the press coverage of the MIA debacle, and I know some people like to focus on the "positive" aspects of the press coverage. However, my own opinion is that the press coverage has been extremely sloppy. I'm just stunned that no journalist has picked up on the blatant deceptions which have been perpetuated by MIA representatives regarding The Bohemian. Namely:

That the painting is inferior becausee it was "skinned" during a cleaning, when Mr. Ross examined the painting personally at Christie's and found it in excellent condition.

An MIA rep telling you that the painting was "on tour," when in fact it was warehoused in a storeroom. Why hasn't anyone asked the MIA painting curator, point-blank, why a painting valued at upwards of $700,000 hasn't been available for public view for at least five years? Further, I would think that if a painting were, indeed, "on tour," that would demonstrate a public demand for it. If it were, indeed, "on tour," why were people in other parts of the country allowed to see it, when the people of Minneapolis were not? Was it on tour, or not?

That the museum doesn't need to own two Bouguereau paintings. How many multiple works by other artists does the MIA currently own? Does the board plan to deaccession until MIA owns only one work by each artist represented in the collection?

I agree that Kate Williams has done a fine job organizing the media coverage, but I was a journalist for 20 years, and I know that Kate and ARC shouldn't have had to do journalists' jobs for them. That's shameful.

Sorry for the rant. The whole thing sort of burns me up.

Have an excellent Sunday,

Following now in a shameful tradition of infamy, yet another major American museum is being lead into disastrous decisions by curators or directors who were trained by modernist ideologues during the mid-20th century. The Minneapolis Art Institute under the guidance of Patrick Noon has decided to sell a major masterpiece, Bohémienne, by William Bouguereau, perhaps the greatest artist of the entire 19th century, in order to purchase a major work by Albert Joseph Moore , an important member of the English Aesthetic Movement, but at best a rather emotionless member of that movement who took their ideology to an extreme by purposely removing any feelings in order to emphasize pretty women in carefully worked out elements of design and color. Globally speaking, a 2nd or 3rd rank master.

William Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
Oil on canvas , 1890
149.9 x 106.7 cms | 59 x 42 ins
Albert Joseph Moore (English, 1841-1893)
Oil on canvas , 1868
48.3 x 17.2 cms | 18 3/4 x 6 3/4 ins

Hmmmm! A first rank work by a world class master from all of art history, being sold to purchase a first rate work by a 2nd rank master from the 19th century. It would seem that the "new math" has somehow infiltrated the calculus of museum acquisitions.

There is no time to waste if this is to be reversed.

The sale is due to take place at Christie's NY on April 22nd or 23rd [in 2004].

Feeling certain that a decision like this should not have been made lightly, I was sure that when I spoke to the Head Curator of paintings, Patrick Noon, that I would be able to prevail upon him to reconsider this decision. I was told: "Unfortunately, Mr. Patrick Noon is not available to talk with you at this time."

So helpful did this august institution wish to be, that their response to my request to see the image of the painting that they plan to purchase, that they said: "With regard to digital images, the Art Renewal Center will need to write for permission to acquire them."

Even though, the same official, Lynette Nyman, told me just hours earlier that she would be happy to send me the image of Battledore by Albert Joseph Moore.

Please feel free to download and print this complimentary flyer below. We encourage our readers to send it along to as many friends and people as possible; particularly those who might have the time to distribute them at the front door of the MIA over the next 3 weeks.

I asked Ms. Nyman if anyone at the MIA had sought out the advice of the world experts on William Bouguereau, Damien Bartoli, who is nearly finished with the Catalogue Raisonné on William Bouguereau, or Fred Ross, who has assisted M. Bartoli for the past ten years, and before that had for two decades aided the former world expert Mark Walker, whose archives representing his life’s work, reside currently in the offices of the Art Renewal Center, Port Reading, NJ 07064 (usually referred to in the art world as "ARC").

She said she thought not, but that Mr. Noon would be the one to tell us and she would ask him to phone Mr. Ross. Only now Mr. Noon has declined to make himself available.

The single most visited pages at ARC, and the single most popular artist on ARC is none other than William Bouguereau. Out of 2,600 of the most famous artists in all of art history, including all of the great names of the high Renaissance, 17th century Dutch, and all of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and out of 28,000 images, the most viewed and visited of them all, are the paintings of none other than William Bouguereau. More than Rembrandt , Caravaggio , Van Gogh , Renoir , Vermeer , Turner , Michelangelo , Leonardo , Raphael , ... more than Dürer , David , Frans Hals , Goya , Velázquez , or Sargent , more of those 5 million plus visitors wish to see the works of William Bouguereau.

Yet this "august" institution has had the unmitigated hubris to not seek out the kind of knowledge and advice available from the world's top experts on Bouguereau or the 19th century, and has on their own good counsels decided that a masterpiece by Bouguereau should be sold to purchase what is clearly a lesser work.

But Patrick Noon did not seek out M. Bartoli, Mr. Swanson, Christopher Wood, Dick MacIntosh, Malcolm Warner, or Fred Ross before making this soon to be infamous decision, and then when one of the two world experts tries to at least speak with him to fine out "What were you thinking" he declines to be "available."

Well, perhaps he'll make himself available to the MIA's Board of Trustees, and more importantly to the public in that great city upon whose support they depend for their sustenance and tax exempt status.

Perhaps they should take the time to find out that Bohémienne by William Bouguereau is one of the most popular works of art in their entire institution.

We haven't even yet added the full analysis as to why Bohémienne is such an incredibly important work, but suffice it to say, that while it might not be quite as tender and heart warming as their other painting by Bouguereau, it is by far the more serious work of the two, as it speaks to the plight and treatment of women in society, and especially the difficulties faced by women artists of that time, whose difficulties were championed more than almost anyone else by one man, William Bouguereau, who used all of his considerable power and influence to aid their entry into the Salons, Academy Julien, and of course his own studio. His marriage to an American woman, Elizabeth Gardener from New Hampshire, who was desperately knocking around Paris and shunned from all official avenues of instruction for her chosen career, touched his heart as he upon viewing her portfolio at once offered her training in his studio. She proved more than worthy of his trust and confidence, as she developed into perhaps his very best student.

ARC Salon Winner Tim Tyler

I'm no expert but when I was last at the MN Art [Institute] museum, I was not able to find Bouguereau's Bohémienne. I asked the lady at the information desk, "Where's the Bouguereau?" She said, "I don't know, let me call." While I was awaiting a reply to her call. She said, "You know, we get more people asking about that painting than any other." I had assumed it was in storage, and said, "Well maybe the museum should learn something from that and hang it!" She told me it was on tour and I was appeased if disappointed, but I now question if that was true.

By comparison, Battledore appears to be a pretty woman purposely posed in body position reminiscent of a classical Greek or Roman statue in which there is an evident effort to remove nearly any meaning or theme whatsoever as a most extreme example of English Aestheticism's "Beauty for Beauty's sake", which, while pretty to look at, rather quickly becomes boring and seems more like a lovely decoration for wall paper or upholstery than a suitable theme for a work of fine art. That said, Moore was an important member of that movement; but it's really incredible that anyone, much less a curator at a major museum, would recommend, and a board of trustees actually decide, to sell a great masterpiece in its stead.

Dr. Gabriel Weisberg

I spoke with Dr. Gabriel Weisberg, one of the foremost authorities on 19th century European painting, on March 13, 2004. I asked him what his opinion was of museums deaccessioning works of art from their collections. Knowing that Dr. Weisberg is a professor at the University of Minnesota, and has friends who are involved in running the MIA, I did not reference that institution, but only asked him his beliefs on such matters.

He said: "Generally speaking, deaccessioning works of art is a bad practice, period!"

If the painting that is to be sold is by a major figure it's an even worse practice, and if it's a major work of art by a major artist it's so bad that it's hard to find words strong enough to characterize such behavior.

Damien Bartoli

Damien Bartoli, the acknowledged world expert on William Bouguereau, said ruefully upon hearing about the planned sale:

Bohémienne was always hidden in the cellars of this little museum where nobody was able to see it. As far as I'm concerned, when I was in St Paul — MPS I was forbidden to see this painting, and thus I was only able to admire their second Bouguereau canvas, which is really remarkable, superb, and cleaned with great manière [style] in the French or Italian way.

Now, "thanks" to the MIA (!!!), a lot of New Yorkers (including myself!) will at least get a glance of Bohémienne at the Christie's preview, in the catalogue, then during the sale ... and perhaps in her future home ... who knows? : if next owners are a lady or a gentleman? (On the other hand, it could fly to Japan from where it won't ever come out!)

Fred Ross

Fred Ross, ARC Chairman and President of the Committee to Write the Catalogue Raisonné of William Bouguereau, responded:

My mouth dropped when Damien said this. You mean that the officials at that institution had the temerity to deny access to view this work by the world's top scholar? Just what are they doing there? Why should tax payers have to foot the bill for their tax exempt status, when it is clearly the responsibility and obligation ... That's correct ... "obligation" and duty to cooperate with experts and scholars who are researching the works in their collection.

He said that American museums have for half a century sold off important works that were out of fashion, only to find out that they had let go of major masterpieces to the horror of historians and the cultural denouement of society and future generations.

"This would never be allowed in Europe," he said, "and ignorant and uninformed museum Boards of Trustees have permitted US Collections to be decimated for over 50 years."

"Preservation of Collections," which is the prime directive and responsibility when it comes to the nation's museums, "is clearly at risk."

When I then revealed to him that I was investigating the planned actions of the Minneapolis Art Institute, he seemed no less than mortified, and in effect, asked me if I was certain of my information.

"They can't be doing that," he said, and then said that he would prefer not to speak any further on the subject because of friendships he has with some of the people that run that institution.

Dr. Vern Swanson

I asked Dr. Vern Swanson, one of the foremost authorities on the English Aesthetic Movement, and the world expert on the foremost member of that movement, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema , the Director of the Springville Museum, Utah, and one of the most sought after authorities on Victorian and European art of the 19th century, to whom Sotheby's and Christie's go regularly for advice on works from this period.

Both of those major institutions also regularly come for advice on this period to myself. When asked, the heads of those departments said that they never go for such advice to Patrick Noon for anything other than information on Richard Parkes Bonington , an English artist who lived from 1802 to 1828, who painted romantic scenes of cities and ocean views, but clearly well before the period in question, which is the late 19th century, and who was neither a member of the schools or movements of either of the artists in question, Moore or Bouguereau.

This is what Dr. Swanson said:

I believe that it is an intelligent thing to acquire a wonderful Albert Joseph Moore , but it does not make sense to sell off an equally wonderful William Adolph Bouguereau. I strongly recommend that the Minneapolis Institute of Art do NOT sell a Bouguereau, but find lesser works to trade or sell.

It is important that the Museum have a very fine Moore in its collection. The one they are contemplating is certainly a great one. I think the way the Museum has chosen to acquire the Moore is inappropriate.

Christopher Wood

Christopher Wood, who published over a dozen major books on Victorian art including the Dictionary of Victorian Painters, commented as follows:

I entirely agree that it is wrong for the Minneapolis Institute to sell a major picture by Bouguereau, even if it is to buy something else. I do not mind if you use my opinion.

For over 60 years great American collections have been decimated.

For 3 generations, Directors and Trustees of many of our most important cultural institutions have irresponsibly and willfully sold off incredibly important parts of their collections based on their own petty prejudices and ephemeral tastes, for the art world to learn decades later of these major losses, many of which are still being hidden. A major exposé on this travesty and half a century of improper deaccessions in our nation's pre-eminent museum, desperately needs to be told.

This has to stop now!

I urge everyone of our visitors who lives in Minnesota to call or write Mr. Noon, and the Board of Trustees of the MIA, and beg them not to do this awful deed. They are willfully ignoring the will and wishes of their constituents, the advice of top experts in the field, and they are spurning the inevitable judgment of history that is certain to criticize this action for generations to come.

Call Mr. Noon, or one or all of the Trustees, write them all, complain on their contact page of their website, but don't let this travesty take place.

Here is the general contact page on line for the MIA:
Here is their address to send letters or Fedex letters or telegrams:

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404
The Director, Evan Maurer: (612) 870-3222
Head Curator's office: (612) 870-3221
Phone the switchboard at: (612) 870-3000
Fax them: (612) 870-3004

By Sherry Ross in conjunction with Fred Ross,
President, Committee to Write the Catalogue Raisonné of William Bouguereau
Chairman Art Renewal Center,
100 Markley Street, Port Reading, NJ 07064

Tim White

Tim White muses on the MIA's true intentions:

I attended the March MIA decorative arts council meeting which addressed Bouguereau's Bohemian where Christopher Monkhouse and Patrick Noon rationalized the removal from our sight of this much-loved work — positing it as too sullied to keep.

The sermon that evening contended that Bouguereau himself had trivialized The Bohemian for crass monetary gain. By lightening the work's tenor, giving his subject a more enigmatic smile, and removing a wall between the violinist and a distant Notre-Dame, they divined that Bouguereau's intentions were "to appease an English sensibility" and make a fast Franc. Snide references to the subject's evident loss of virginity, and derogation of the work's abundant inadequacies attempted to make its banishment an inevitability.

The MIA's own lucre-inspired motivations safely transferred to a dead artist, they persuaded this council of the rectitude of essentially selling not only a whore, but a cheap one — revealing that The Bohemian was accessioned for a song and they had always intended to sell it for profit. After indicting their donor's tastes in having the gall to bring the MIA such a horror, they charged Bouguereau with the avarice of "comforting the comfortable," while hypocritically promising to pad our collection with greater trophies.

In changing the appearance of his bohemian, Bouguereau could as easily have intended to lessen the pedagogical lesson apparent in its earlier state; i.e. to open possibilities of spiritual and secular gain from his subject's presumed experience. Bouguereau gave his work greater interpretive subtlety — a faculty the MIA's curators lacked in as much abundance as their capacity to restrain pedagogy. No questions were allowed. [...]

A museum is not a democracy, but it is also not a fiefdom where curators independently deem this or that object suitable for their artistically-illiterate subjects. The smugness displayed by our city's self-appointed tastemakers is intolerable. If the MIA continues to disguise its greed as scholarship, and to bar its public from important decisions, it will become an institution as vapid as a mall.

— Tim White, Minneapolis

Allan Banks

Allan Banks, President of the ASCR, gives his support:




(Allan Banks is the President of the American Society of Classical Realism, past Chairman of the American Society of Portrait Artists, and a member of ARC's Board of Advisors, as well as one of the judge's in ARC's Scholarship and Salon Competitions.)

Cyd and Dale Redpath

ARC Chairman commends the Minneapolis Atelier for its unflinching support:

Cyd and Dale,

Thank you both for all of your help and support. We are trying every way we can to expose the hypocrisy, lunacy, and decadence of the modernist establishment, but without people like you who every day prove in actions what I can only talk about, our efforts would be in vain.

You're training the generation that is going to equal the late 19th century... Just look at the first ARC Salon... By the 15th or perhaps even the 10th Salon, the fruits of your, and the other 52 ARC Ateliers, labours will take the art world by storm.

I do hope that the both of you will, along with your best alumni and faculty, enter next year's ARC Salon. This year's resulted in US$126,000 in awards, purchases, and after show sales. We need the feedback and cross pollination of all the world's techniques and styles to renew, expand, and multiply an endless stream of poetic humanist master works, that will bear witness to the limitless potential of human creativity.

My warmest best wishes,

Kathy Kachelmyer

Kathy Kachelmyer applauds ARC's efforts to save Bohémienne:

I would like to thank you for all your efforts to save Bohémienne. I loved this painting, and would never have known about her impending sale if it hadn't been for your organization. We could not prevent her sale but at least I had an opportunity to try. Also, I have enjoyed visiting your site. It is incredible!

— Kathy Kachelmyer Eagan, MN

Tim White

Tim White accuses the MIA of hypocrisy:

If the decision by the board was based on the same biased scholarship that Patrick Noon presented to the February Decorative Arts Council meeting, it is wrong. Your curators hypocritically accused Bouguereau, without documentary evidence of diminishing his original conception of Bohémienne to turn a quick Franc. The MIA's own lucre-inspired motivations were safely transposed to a dead painter, and the way cleared for a contemptible loss. Your public deserved better.

— Tim White, Minneapolis

MIA supporter

A decades-long supporter of MIA disheartened by the sale:

I was introduced to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as a young, wild street kid in the early 70's. A piece of art on display captured my heart and spirit and has made an impact on my life. That piece is Bohémienne by William Bouguereau.

Because of that painting I returned many times to the MIA. Because of that painting I studied art history and studio arts as an electrical engineering student at the U of M. Because of that painting I became a member of the MIA. Now it seems because of that painting I will be withdrawing my support for the MIA.

Thank you for publishing the news, and trying to save our treasure. I have contacted many of the principles at the Institute of Arts, including Dr. Maurer and Patrick Noon. But I also took notice in the members magazine that Govenor Pawlenty and State Representative Len Biernat also serve on the Board of Trustees. Perhaps they will be more responsive to the public interest!

Oh, and the other thing I took note of in the members magazine: 100 million dollars in planned expenditures to "improve" the museum... what an insult!

Joe Swierczek

Sheldon Lichter

Sheldon Lichter questions the MIA's motives:

Dear Mr. Ross,

Regarding the selling of the Bouguereau Bohémienne: I'm sure I haven't an idea that has not already occurred to you and many of your supporters in protesting this sale. But as I read about this on your website, and gather the thinking into one comprehensive heap, I cannot help but be led to the (probable) conclusion that the entire rationale amounts to an investment strategy, however misconceived. I don't think it has anything to do with Modernism, since the idea is to replace the Bouguereau with a painting by a pre-Raphaelite. [ A.J. Moore is actually a representative of the Aesthetic movement. — Ed ] And it surely has nothing to do with artistic worth, which means that Mr. Noon and his den of thieves are veritable traitors to what is certainly the spirit and letter of their mission. I'm afraid it's all about speculation and investment only; the spirit of our times, and only a massive outpouring of protest in Minnesota or perhaps a threatening note from the Governor are going to move these investors to mend their ways in order to save their jobs. Otherwise, I'm afraid, they shall not be moved.

There is no need to reply. I only wanted to contribute a bit of input that might possibly be germane. Thanks for your kind attention, and hoping for a triumphant outcome.

Sheldon Lichter

Fred Ross, ARC Chairman

Open letter from ARC Chairman Fred Ross to all MIA Board Members, Trustees, Curators, and Staff:

Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404

To All Board Members, Trustees, Curators and Staff:

Experts from around the world agree that Bohémienne is one of history's great masterpieces. For 80 years the ideologues of modernism have tried to tell everyone what we should like and that well-crafted scenes of the real world are not great art.

Great art is about humanity and the human condition and the tender nuances of personality and mood. Bouguereau overwhelmingly achieved this. Not only was he the greatest artist of his day, but one of the ten greatest in world history. Monet and Degas both believed Bouguereau would be considered the greatest 19th century artist in the year 2000.

This battle of revenge against Bouguereau and the other academic masters for supposedly preventing the impressionist's access to the Salon is no longer the battle that is appropriate for art museums to be fighting. Rembrandt and Rubens hated each other's work. Do you take Rembrandt's side over Rubens' or vice versa?

Please don't let this masterpiece go. I have just examined it personally and as one of the two recognized world experts on Bouguereau, I assure you that this painting is in perfect condition. There is no over-painting. There is no paint loss except for three or four pin-point repairs in the sky which are meaningless for a work that is 110 years old.

This painting is about the plight of women artists at a time of terrible discrimination in 19th century Europe. Bouguereau, more then any other figure, used his personal power and influence as the President of the Academy and President of the Salon to permit women artists entry into both those important institutions for the first time in history. He was an innovator and ahead of his time on every level despite what you may have heard in the past.

There will be more shame in going through with this sale then with reversing the decision and saying, "Out of respect for all the people of Minneapolis who love this work, we have decided to withdraw it and let future generations decide its place in history."

Let me reaffirm the offer of the Art Renewal Center (ARC), www.artrenewal.org, to donate $30,000 towards the purchase of the Moore or to help compensate Christie's for withdrawing the painting. We only ask that the museum hang Bohémienne at least three months every year in a reasonable, prominent, well-lit spot in the museum so that art students and scholars may have free and ready access to it.

Let us cooperate with you. Let us tell the world about your current and future exhibits and hopefully start with a major article about your pulling the painting out of the sale upon reconsideration of its merits and importance in history and mainly for the people of the city of Minneapolis.

I would be more then happy to address the board, trustees, curators and museum staff at any reasonable time.

Fred Ross
President of the Committee to Write the Catalog Raisonne on William Bouguereau
Chairman & President
Art Renewal Center

Fred Ross, ARC Chairman

Fred Ross, ARC Chairman and Bouguereau expert, denies MIA's claim that Bohémienne was retouched:

Thank you Drew for these sentiments so beautifully expressed.

We have received scores of letters in the last couple of days expressing the same sentiments.

I went to examine her in person at Christie's auction house today, and found her to be in perfect condition despite the fact that the head curator of the MIA, told a crowd who came to a lecture there a month ago, that there was over painting and potential condition problems.

As one of the two world experts on Bouguereau, second only to Damien Bartoli, and having viewed 200 of his works in the flesh, including having studied several as they were being restored, I can say with complete certainty that this painting is in perfect original condition exactly as painted by the artist.

Best wishes,
Fred Ross
Art Renewal Center, 100 Markley Street, Port Reading, NJ 07064
President Bouguereau Committee

Drew Hamre

Drew Hamre shares a moving reminiscence of Bohémienne:

They shuffled Bouguereau's Bohémienne from gallery to gallery, and then they finally hid her. She was secreted in minor rooms, and hung above ottomans like a garage sale landscape.

No matter. Bohémienne was the center of any room in which she appeared, and she always had her admirers. You were rarely alone when you found her, the reflective, intelligent gypsy girl immortalized by the aging, masterful artist with the unpronounceable name.

I wonder if the trustees at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts talked to their floor staff before they decided to place Bohémienne at auction. How many wayward visitors asked the guards where she was after she was removed from display? How many phoned the information desk and wondered when she'd return to the gallery floor?

Bohémienne's admirers are more ardent and more numerous than any of us suspected. Each of us believed that we alone discovered her, so we loved her all the more. Finding that she is widely loved is affirmation, but bittersweet because she may disappear — and forever if sold into a private collection.

Surely there's a way Bohémienne can remain in Minnesota?

Donald Ellis

Letter from Donald Ellis to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Minnesota, and quite possibly the world, is about to lose William-Adolphe Bouguereau's painting Bohémienne to auction (Star Tribune, April 13). It will be locked away or on display far from our eyes. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in its shortsighted thinking will give up a small piece of itself, but a huge piece of its credibility. No one educated about art would sell this painting at any price.

With this sale, probably to a private collector, the only way to view it will be the little postcards the MIA gift shop will surely continue to sell. Please urge the MIA's officials not to do this to us and our fine museum.

Donald Ellis, Minneapolis

Prominent art school

Prominent art school exposes the truth behind the MIA's sale of Bouguereau:

Dear Fred Ross,

[We] are behind your campaign to stop the MIA from selling William Bouguereau's Bohémienne.

A month ago we attended a lecture ("Shifting Values: Issues of Quality") presented by Patrick Noon at the MIA Decorative Arts Council. The invitation we received had stated that they would be using Bouguereau's Bohémienne as an example. This aroused our curiosity because Bohémienne has not been shown at the MIA for at least the past four years, maybe longer, despite our request to have it displayed.

In his lecture, Patrick Noon explained that Bouguereau's painting Temptation is a superior piece compared to Bohémienne, because the latter painting had several changes made to it by Bouguereau.

Patrick cited several area of the painting that were overpainted, including changes to the background from a wall to a distant bridge and river and lightening the figure's face, hands and feet. Patrick claimed that Bouguereau's paint handling and modeling was inferior in Bohémienne, failing to mention that to the horror of [Richard] Lack and his students, the painting had been skinned by whomever had attempted to clean the painting after it was purchsed by the MIA back in the early 1970's. This was the essence of his talk. We listened as some of the audience said how surprised they were that such a fine painting was so inferior and we were understandably irritated as they thanked him for the insight.

Afterwards, we approached Patrick and asked if this lecture was given to prepare the public for the sale of Bohémienne. He did not look pleased, but answered yes the board of trustees had approved the sale and that the painting was already at Christies being sold. We were told that the painting was originally purchased for $3,500 for the purpose of reselling it at some future date for a better work of art. Patrick said they hope to get one million for it and that some of the money would be used to pay for their latest purchase of an Albert Moore painting.

As you may know, the MIA tried to sell Bohémienne almost ten years ago but there was so much public opposition that they dropped the idea. We speculate that this is why they took the painting from view, so that the public would slowly forget about it.

We stated our objections about the sale to Patrick, and that despite his definition of inferior workmanship it was still in our eyes a great painting and quite popular. [We] asked if any of the money from the sale would go towards purchasing another Bouguereau and Patrick replied, "Oh no, we wouldn't be able to afford one."

We have written a letter of objection to the MIA Board of Trustees and have questioned their methods. We have encouraged letter writing and calling. We have also posted copies of your poster. If you send us more posters we will make them available to those who are willing to picket outside the MIA. [...]

Thank you for raising your voice and for your effort to wake up art lovers to museum practices that are not in keeping with the wishes of their public.

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Official statement from MIA regarding sale of Bohémienne:

The Board of Trustees of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has unanimously approved to deaccession The Bohemian, a painting by French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). The Board's decision fulfills the original purpose of acquiring the painting, which was to exchange or resell it at a later date. This will happen in late April when The Bohemian is sold at auction as part of Christie's nineteenth-century European art sale. Any proceeds from the sale will go towards the purchase of an artwork similar in basic category of the The Bohemian. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts will continue to have on view Temptation, a recognized masterpiece painted by Bouguereau in 1880.

Fred Ross, ARC Chairman

Rebuttal from the ARC Chairman:

If the MIA had discovered that a Rembrandt or Vermeer or Michelangelo in their collection had been purchased originally during a period when one of those artists had been improperly maligned by a temporary ideological fad, would they choose to sell a painting by one of those masters in order to purchase a lesser work by a contemporary of Rembrandt or Michelangelo ? Or would they have that treasure on permanent exhibit with the pride and protection of the entire museum backing it? Well this is a perfect analogy, because William Bouguereau was one of the 10 greatest masters in the whole of art history, and in the mid 20th century he was improperly maligned by a fad called Modernism that had taken control of the nation's institutions of high culture, but now finally he is being recognized for the consummate genius of the human form and human psyche that he was, and despite all evidence to the contrary, which the MIA did not choose to avail themselves of, they have willfully decided to sell of this major masterpiece about the plight of women artists in the 19th century.

J.P. Hagen

J.P. Hagen shared his letter to the MIA with us:

Dear Board of Trustees of MIA,

I beg you to please reconsider the pending sale of Bohémienne by William Bouguereau. This is one of the finest painting in the Museum's collection.

As a young child in the early 60's I spent many a morning with crayon and paper in hand on the floor of MIA learning to draw. I now make a respectable living as a painter, raising a young family on Martha's Vineyard and I hold the MIA entirely responsible for my good fortune. Little did I realize the impact of one of the finest collections ever assembled would have on me.

I fear your crown will be tarnished forever with the removal of this jewel, Bohémienne. The Little Gypsy Girl is what I sought as a child. Bouguereau's mastery is what I seek as an adult.

Respectfully Yours,
John Philip Hagen

(Note to the Editor:)
Back ground information about this story can be found at the following address,


Please pass this along to the city desk editors. They may find this story of interest as it is not to late to stop this travesty from occurring.

Thank you,
John Philip Hagen

Mary E. McKay-Eaton

An eloquent appeal from Mary E. McKay-Eaton:

Dear Mr. Patrick Noon,

I have just now been informed through the offices of the ARC website that you are in the process of selling William Adolph Bouguereau's masterpiece, Bohémienne to acquire Albert Joseph Moore's Battledore. I am writing this email to you specifically to implore you to reconsider your decision.

Bohémienne is a very popular painting in the MIA collection, judging from comments by visitors of your fine museum, and the overall quality of the MIA collection as well as its prestige as an institution would be diminished should you let the Bouguereau go on the market. As our more beautiful and significant works of art leave our museums, the more the public is shortchanged and discouraged from even attending our museums. Customer base suffers ... and so would your institution. Museums are nothing without viewers. If I cannot appeal to your sacred obligation to the public — who depend on you to make prudent choices in acquisition and deaccession — can I at least appeal to your sense of pride of place in the museum world?

As to that sacred obligation to the public, please let me say with all due respect, sir, that should the sale of the Bouguereau go through, the public would thereby be deprived of an incredible work of art, one that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible — if only to offset everything that is everyday and ugly in our modern world. Should the sale of the Bouguereau go through, what are the odds that the buyer of that wonderful painting — knowing a good thing when presented with one — will simply hang it at home or store it (properly, one hopes!) forever out of sight of the general public? Have you no sense of the vital role your institution plays in bringing a sense of beauty and wonder to those among us who have too little of those things in their everyday lives? Must the walls within our art museums reflect what is uninspiring and coarse without? I myself cannot see the benefit of relegating Bohémienne to obscurity for the sake of a lesser painting, a painting that would have less to offer a public that should have only the best.

Please, Mr. Noon, I implore you most sincerely to keep Bohémienne hanging on the walls of the MIA. Your institution will be a much better place for it.

Thank you.

Very sincerely yours,
Mary E. McKay-Eaton

David Roles

David Roles is indignant at the sale:

Dear Sir:

Selling a Bouguereau painting in order to purchase a Moore painting is the equivalent of selling a diamond in order to purchase a paste replica. I would buy your Bohemian painting myself if I could afford it. I would rather have one Bouguereau painting than any ten paintings by Moore. Museums and art galleries were supposedly built for the benefit of the public. It is unfortunate that the members of the public do not have more say in the activities and decision making which happens in these institutions. The Bohemian is one of Bouguereau's greatest masterpieces. It sickens me to think that after being auctioned it could languish in the home of some multi millionaire while the public would be deprived of ever seeing it again.

David Roles
Department of Art and Design
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
T6G 2C9

Timothy Tyler

Timothy Tyler shares his impressions of Minneapolis:

An interesting thing about MN. I've been there several times and really like the people there. Yet, there is a real desire on the parts of many there to be LIKE NYNY! It's weird — Chicago is too close and familiar but ah, New York.

You can hear it in every broadcast of the Prairie Home Companion. Old Garrison even moved his show to NY and was there 2 years before he ran back home with his tail between his legs. I have famous collectors living in MN that love everything NY. I've never seen this admiration for one town from another as profoundly displayed.

I'm sure this desire to please NY is underlying this attempt to sell the Bouguereau. Aren't people interesting? And why do some guys wear the leather plier holders and have long wallets with chains?

Timothy Tyler

Timothy Tyler attacks the MIA's disregard for the public's opinion:

I can tell you that museum has tons of really aweful art that they cannot sell at huge profits because they paid way too much for it in the first place. The powers that be at these places not only are self-serving but also clearly disregard the wishes and taste of the very public for whom they are supposed to serve. They work in shadows and behind closed doors.

When they display proudly some new orange sewer pipe sculpture their public says, "Who decided to buy that?" When they sell good paintings the public says, "Who decided to sell that?" Clandestine activities and contempt for public and popular appeal reigns in these places. Public exposure is the cure. Boards can be changed through public pressure. Board members can be made to answer for their activities. I wonder if their little lecture had any effect upon the market price of the work? Perhaps the experts know the lecture for what is was. One could think that the public in MN would be rightly insulted by such blatant manipulation and deceit. Light has no place with darkness.

Travis Louie

Travis Louie declares three strikes for the MIA:

Whenever I hear of people like Patrick Noon, making such short-sighted decisions, one has to question his credentials. How did he get his job? Selling that Bouguereau to acquire an Albert Moore is like trading Alex Rodriguez for Carlos Guillen (a good shortstop, but no future hall of famer). If Mr. Noon were in Major League Baseball, he would be fired on the spot for making such a decision. The fans would throw eggs at his car whenever he left the stadium. This reminds me of the time when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York stopped displaying their only Frederick Leighton painting. It used to be on the second floor right next to an Alphonse Mucha painting (that's also gone). I asked about that painting for many years after and could never get a straight answer. I wonder if anyone else remembers this? It was in the late 1980s. They have since remodeled the European wing of their museum, but the Leighton is nowhere to be seen.