Busybodies, Hoarders and Egomaniacs
Had the two pictures not been sold, Academy Interim Director Carmine Branagan told The New York Times’ Randy Kennedy, “the academy would close—and that is a sincere and honest statement.”
The National Academy owns a hoard of more than 7,000 works of art, the lion’s share hidden away and never seen by the public. What’s more, in my opinion, the sale of a couple Hudson River School landscapes is a big ho-hum. Whenever I'm in a museum and stumble into a room with Hudson River artists, I turn tail and go elsewhere—anywhere. Same thing with Ruisdael, Constable, Corot and Andrew Wyeth.
It's also my opinion that if I have clear title to something, I can sit on it, sell it, eat it or give it away to the Salvation Army—especially if that will save an institution, put bread on the table or enable loyal people to keep working and customers to be served.
I once knew a lovely couple who inherited a beautiful house stuffed with family heirlooms—magnificent antiques worth millions. They didn't have much money, worked hard, scrimped to send their kids to college—all the while surrounded by this extraordinary, museum-quality collection.
I remember a Christmas gathering at their house when I brought along my friend Charlie, an art collector and a denizen of auctions and up-market antique stores. As we were chatting, Charlie’s eyes suddenly narrowed and he said, “Holy smoke, that guy across the room is sitting on a Duncan Phyfe chair! ... and so is Peggy ... Good God, so am I! ... The stuff in this room is worth a fortune!” He counted a dozen matching Duncan Phyfe chairs.
As the owner’s wife once said to me, “We could have sold one of those big old Chinese urns and put all the children through college, fixed up the house and had money left over, but the family wouldn’t hear of it.”