Yesterday the Boston Globe’s Sebastian Smee broke the news that the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was hoping to sell eight paintings in order to acquire Gustave Caillebotte’s Man at his Bath (1884, at left).
The news reminded me of my baseball card-collecting days, when I might offer a boyhood chum the 1985 Topps cards of hometown San Francisco Giants Chili Davis, Jeff Leonard and Dan Gladden — ‘our’ entire outfield! — hoping that he’d be willing to give up an ‘84 Topps Darryl Strawberry. And, uh…: In the heat of the moment I may have tossed in a Don Mattingly rookie card too, because that’s what my buddy told me it would take to get the deal done. I agreed. The result: Bad trade for me. But, you know, I wanted that Darryl Strawberry card real bad and my buddy had it.
Is that what the MFAB is doing in effectively hoping to trade eight paintings for the Caillebotte? It’s hard to say. I haven’t seen any of the paintings the MFA is hoping to give up in years. I’ve never seen the Caillebotte. Regardless: The most strategic way to deaccession is coolly, systematically and over time so that when an opportunity presents itself you’re in a position to make the best possible decision rather than to do whatever you have to do to get another painting you really want, now. The Hirshhorn, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have been deaccessioning in this manner for years: Not so that they could buy a particular painting now, but so that they’d be in a position of strength when something interesting became available. (Special credit to the IMA for doing its deaccessioning more transparently than anyone else. The MFA didn’t provide a list of what it hopes to sell until after close-of-business yesterday.)
Is the MFA is trading its outfield and a Mattingly rookie card for something it really wants? Here’s what it’s giving up:
Maxime Camille Louis Maufra, Gust of Wind, 1899.
Camille Pisarro, View from the Artist’s Window, Eragny, 1885.
An image of the eighth painting the MFA hopes to sell, Vasily Vereshchagin’s Pearl Mosque, Delhi (~1880-90), was unavailable.