Philadelphia History at Auction

Raphaelle Peale Still Life at Christie's
Philadelphia History at Auction

A still life by Raphaelle Peale that passed through Christie’s auction house appeared in today’s New York Times Arts section today. The article is about the long-raging debate of deaccessioning. The still life brought the Philadelphia History Museum $842,000. I don’t want to repeat the content of the article here, but feel it necessary for the public to continue to weigh in on this sensitive topic. Most disturbing the treasurer of the museum initially told the reporter there was no record of how many items it had sold, how much the sales had brought in or where the proceeds had been directed. Check out the article.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

4 comments

Reducing it to a painting of a fish purposely diminishes something important. You could just as easily use this logic justify the New York Historical Society selling Cole’s Course of Empires, a a Bierdstadt which depicts the American West. What does it have to do with New York History? Let’s hope that doesn’t come to pass! In the case of Raphaelle Peale, yes, it is a painting of a fish, but it’s also an early Philadelphia painting and speaks to the cultural rise of city, and the United States. To say it doesn’t meet the mission is to say that artistic contributions are not as important to the city’s history as architectural, industrial, transportation, social, racial and anything else you may think of that could come to find itself in a history museum. I think the last line says in essence, art is not important to a city’s history, and that could not be farther from the truth.

It is unfortunate that the NYTimes reporter, Robin Pogrebin, decided to omit a great deal of information that the museum did provide her with for the purpose of this article. Such as, the 22 page Collection Management Policy that the museum abides by, and which is used as a model for museums nationwide. This includes a stringent process by which collection items are deaccessioned if the criteria is in place for such an action to be warranted.

No one at this institution ever said “there was no record of how many items it had sold, how much the sales had brought in or where the proceeds had been directed.” On the contrary, we told her we have records (there is a file for every single sale that the museum takes part in), but it will take time to pull them together. We did so and provided her with the requested information in detail.

Artnet is really hard on them! An article there says the PHM “seems to be run by a confederacy of dunces, with Kleiber (the treasurer) as head fool.” Remember the saying about glass houses? Artnet dates the painting at 1915, 85 years after Peale’s death.

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