Don't slice the art works in two Lucas collection: Judge Kaplan's ruling allows time for a better solution

October 04, 1995

WITH THE wisdom of Solomon, Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ruled that the Maryland Institute, College of Art may sell the Lucas collection but must then compensate the two museums that care for it. How much, must await an adversary hearing. So in theory the dispute is resolved in the institute's favor. Whether it is actually in the institute's interest to sell the massive collection of prints plus paintings and sculpture to enlarge its endowment is left unresolved.

Time remains for an amicable solution or fourth-party intervention that would provide a gift of money to the institute and title to the art to the Baltimore Museum of Art and Walters Art Gallery now holding it. However unlikely, that would be the best solution for Baltimore.

This gift from George A. Lucas to the institute in 1910 is part of Baltimore's patrimony. Generations of museum-goers have loved this art. Most of the 18,000 prints remain in storage but the repository is a leading site for the study of 19th century French art. The Maryland Institute is the dominant studio art school in this region but with a small endowment. It is a pillar of Bolton Hill and Mount Royal, an economic generator and a magnet for creative talent.

So, although the quarreling institutions invite the community to pick sides, the community needs both and not their quarrel. The symbiosis of the two kinds of institution is apparent to all, if not always to themselves.

So far, there is no sign of an out-of-court settlement or gift that would satisfy all. The museums are entitled to appeal Judge Kaplan's decision and all sides must await their effort to convince him of how much or little the museums should be paid for six and five decades' care of the art.

Meanwhile, the public can be grateful to the Institute for provoking the Baltimore Museum of Art to exhibit more of the Lucas Collection at one time than it ever has. It's wonderful stuff that Baltimore must not lose.

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