Picture- perfect decision Commentary: Everybody gives something, everybody gets something and everyone should agree: Lucas is where it belongs.

June 11, 1996|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Now that the Lucas Collection has been saved for Baltimore, now that all the suspense is over, and before we go back to our daily rounds, let us recognize and be grateful for what has been done for us.

Let us give thanks to the arts institutions involved, which put aside any animosities engendered along the way, as well as to the judge and all the other disinterested but profoundly concerned parties, for having come up with a solution so completely right. It was both political and politic, in the best sense of each word.

Political, in the sense that this is the way politics works when it works well: everybody gives something, everybody gets something, to arrive at a resolution to which all can agree.

Politic, in the sense of sagacious, prudent, judicious, especially in relation to what concerns the community and its citizens.

For we the citizens are the real beneficiaries here, a fact that was too easily overlooked during the whole long-drawn-out affair.

Because the museums and the institute opposed one another's positions on the issue, it was often thought of as a war to see which side would prevail. But the institutions are not isolated entities that have nothing to do with us, fighting it out for a square yard more or less of turf. Because -- incredible as it would have seemed even a week ago -- they all won, we as a community won.

And what exactly did we win?

First, we won three stronger institutions. The Maryland Institute just about doubles its endowment, which will by no means put it on easy street; but it will be a help.

The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery will now own the Lucas Collection, which they only held before. The threat of removal no longer hangs over them -- a threat that existed at some level ever since the collection was put on loan more than 60 years ago. Moreover, there is no threat that any part of the collection will ever leave the city (except on loan), since the museums are prohibited from selling or otherwise disposing of any of it.

But the benefit to the community goes beyond that, since the Lucas Collection contributes to something greater than any institution can claim. Baltimore is singularly blessed to possess an extraordinary body of 19th and early 20th century art, from Ingres and Delacroix down to Matisse and Picasso. The 20,000 works in the Lucas Collection fit into the two museums' holdings at every point like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. They contribute immeasurably to making this city a major center for the exhibition and study of 19th century and early modern art.

Had Lucas been lost, that position would have been compromised hugely and irrevocably. That cloud over our future has now been permanently removed.

And not incidentally, we as a community will continue to honor in perpetuity the memory of George A. Lucas. Born here, he pursued a career in Paris for half a century as art agent to collectors and as collector himself. When he died, his body was sent to be buried here, as he wished it. And his collection was sent to live here, as he wished it. Now it will always live here.

Whether it's art or anything else, rarely do disputes turn out so well for everybody involved. We're all lucky this was one of them.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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