Baltimore will retain Lucas art School, museums end legal feud with $8.5 million deal

Glendening steps in

Walters, BMA, state to share payment for Md. Institute's works

June 05, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

After 18 months of legal posturing and private negotiations, three of the city's largest cultural institutions have reached an agreement about the future of the famous Lucas art collection:

It will stay in Baltimore.

But it took scores of billable lawyer hours and the combined efforts of a circuit court judge, the governor, the heads of three boards of trustees, at least two leaders of a charitable foundation and the president of a symphony to do it.

Though the settlement has not yet been finalized, the state has agreed to pay $4.25 million over several years to the Maryland Institute, College of Art to ensure that the thousands of artworks will remain permanently in the city, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Another $4.25 million will be raised in a public fund drive by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery with help from the Baltimore Community Foundation, an organization established in 1972 to support families and strengthen the region's cultural sector.

"I am extremely pleased we have now reached an agreement. It would have been a shame to see these great institutions waste millions of User.Event 7 was not expected here! dollars in a protracted legal fight," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in a prepared statement.

"We must now confer with legislative leadership, and the institutions must confer with their financial supporters to make sure this agreement becomes reality."

The settlement represents the culmination of a long-running, bitter court battle between the Maryland Institute, which owns the collection, and the BMA and the Walters, which have housed and maintained it for more than six decades. The institute wanted to sell its art to bolster its $9.5 million endowment; both museums opposed the sale.

For its collection -- which includes thousands of prints, paintings and sculptures by artists such as Edouard Manet, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt and Eugene Delacroix, and has been appraised at about $11 million by Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses -- the institute will receive a total of $8.5 million.

Preserving art

This is not the first time that a governor of Maryland has stepped forward to contribute to the purchase of an art collection.

In 1989, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed a task force led by then-Lt. Gov. Mickey Steinberg to investigate ways of shoring up the Peabody Conservatory's flagging finances. Under Steinberg, a plan was devised in which the state would purchase the Peabody's art collection for $15 million, to be paid over five years.

To qualify for the deal, the Peabody had to raise another $15 million.

On June 28, the Peabody collection, which encompasses a number of works, including the Eaton Collection of more than 1,000 drawings, will be owned officially by the state. It will remain housed at a number of institutions, including the BMA, the Walters and the Maryland Historical Society.

No details available

To avoid derailing the sensitive Lucas negotiations, everyone involved has agreed not to describe details of the settlement until they are released by the governor. However, many close to the discussions privately say that the outstanding points are primarily technicalities that affect how the state would raise its share of the money, including the possibility that the state would issue bonds.

The Lucas Collection is considered one of the most important bequests ever made in Baltimore, along with the works Henry Walters left to the gallery that bears his name and the modern art donated to the BMA by Etta and Claribel Cone.

History of collection

The works were amassed by Baltimore native George A. Lucas, who, in 1909, bequeathed his art to Walters. One year later, Walters gave the art to the institute. In 1933, most of the artworks were placed on loan to the BMA. Several years later, five pieces were given on loan to the Walters Art Gallery.

Long legal fight

In January 1995, the institute filed a complaint for declaratory judgment asking the city's circuit court to grant it the right to sell its artworks. In April, the museums filed a counterclaim contesting the institute's right to sell any of the artworks, arguing that Lucas and Walters meant for the art to stay in Baltimore. Six months later, Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ruled that the institute could sell its art.

What remained, then, for the court to decide was whether the BMA was owed any money for the care it gave the artworks over 63 years. (The Walters withdrew its claim for reimbursement because it had borrowed only a few works, but continued to oppose the sale.) And a trial date was set for May 13.

Governor's response

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