Lucas Collection report raises concern that some-- --or all--of it will leave city

January 31, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

A report assessing the 20,000-piece Lucas Collection of 19th-century art -- which the Maryland Institute, College of Art, is considering whether or not to sell, either in whole or in part -- has stirred "the gravest possible concern," said one museum official here. Baltimore Museum of Art deputy director Brenda Richardson said yesterday that the findings "would seem . . . to be a clear potential threat" to the works' remaining in Baltimore.

The report, commissioned by the Institute and released this week, says the collection "excels" in prints but indicates that other aspects, including paintings and bronzes, are of less importance and/or better represented in other city collections.

The 48-page document, prepared by former Institute dean Ted Klitzke to aid the Institute's board of directors in its considerations, also cites a legal opinion indicating that proceeds from the sale of any of the works "should be used to enhance the collection."

But yesterday Robert A. Shelton, chairman of the board's art assets committee, said that that opinion had never been signed and had been superseded by a subsequent opinion "on the broader issue of disposition [of the collection]." The board has decided it would be "inappropriate to release or discuss" that opinion "at this time," he said. Most of the collection is on loan to the BMA, with a few works at the Walters Art Gallery. The directors of both museums were unavailable for comment yesterday. But Ms. Richardson said that an initial reading of the report "gives us cause for the gravest possible concern about the future of the Lucas Collection and what would seem, from this alarming report, to be a clear potential threat to its preservation in the Baltimore community."

Kate Sellers, deputy director of the Walters, restated "the Walters Art Gallery position unequivocally opposing the sale of the Lucas Collection" and said a response to the report itself "will be forthcoming."

The collection contains more than 20,000 prints, 300 paintings, about 150 drawings and watercolors, 140 bronzes mostly by the 19th century French animalist sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, 50 Oriental porcelains and 71 artists' palettes. It was left by art agent and collector George A. Lucas to Henry Walters, who gave it to the Institute in 1910, in accord with Lucas' wishes, "to be dedicated to sincere art education in his native city."

The report indicates that the collection is not used extensively by education institutions. It says that interviews with faculty at the Institute and other institutions indicate that in recent years the print collection has been visited by an "annual average" of "six or eight classes." And it says that "except for prints, there appears to be a reluctance on the part of Institute faculty and students to utilize the works in the Lucas Collection."

It deals with possibilities for greater use of the collection, including more exhibitions and courses built around the works.

In dealing with parts of the Lucas holdings, the report states that the print collection has a reputation that "extends beyond the community and enjoys national status." But it notes that of the paintings "perhaps 15 works could be considered of exceptional quality." Of the 122 Barye bronzes, it cites "A Barye scholar" (identified by Mr. Klitzke as Glenn F. Benge, author of a book on Barye) as having "recently expressed the view that there were a few first-rate bronzes in the Lucas Collection, but not many." The report goes on to say that the Walters' Barye collection has "greater range."

Of the collection as a whole, the report states that "the absence of the Lucas Collection would diminish the available riches and the multiplicity of opportunities for . . . enjoyment; but the same or very similar opportunities are provided by the collection of the Walters Art Gallery, except in the category of prints. . . ."

Institute president Fred Lazarus, who released the report, said there is no timetable for making a decision.

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