Ruling is near on sale of Lucas Collection

September 28, 1995|By HOLLY SELBY | HOLLY SELBY,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan is expected to rule later this week whether the Maryland Institute, College of Art may sell all or part of its renowned Lucas Collection -- or whether that question should be decided next spring in a trial.

The collection, which includes thousands of prints, oil paintings and sculptures, was given to the institute in 1910 by Henry Walters. Considered one of the most important bequests ever made in Baltimore, it has been on loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery since 1933.

The three Baltimore art organizations have been embroiled in a court battle since January, when the Maryland Institute filed TC complaint for declaratory judgment asking the court to grant it the right to sell the art works. In April, the museums filed a counterclaim contesting the institute's right to sell any of the artworks.

The museums argued that when the institute accepted the Lucas Collection, it also accepted the responsibility for keeping the art in trust for the public. They also argued that even if the court allows the works to be sold, the institute should not profit because public money has been used to maintain the collection.

In a hearing yesterday, the institute requested that the court allow the sale without a trial. Its lawyers argued that the works of art were an "absolute gift" from Henry Walters to the Maryland Institute.

Money from the sale would be used to bolster the school's $9 million endowment.

The collection, estimated to be worth no less than $7 million, was amassed by George A. Lucas, a native of Baltimore who lived in Paris. Upon his death in 1909, he bequeathed the collection to Henry Walters, his friend. It was at Lucas' behest that Henry Walters subsequently gave the collection to the Maryland Institute in 1910.

Therefore, argued lawyers for the museums yesterday, the intentions of art collector Lucas must be determined by the court before a decision can be made about the sale of the collection.

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