Can donated museum items be sold?

Can museums collections be sold at any given time if they were acquired through a donation? Like if grandpa had a Rubens and he wanted to donated it to the Chicago Art Museum, can they then go out and sell it after they acquired it?

Yes, it happens all the time.

In specific istances, there may be restrictions placed onto an artwork. And particular museums may have policies against it. However, museums are cash-strapped in good financial times and are in much worse shape now when times are poor. Art that doesn’t fit into their core collections or that has been sitting in the vaults for decades gets sold regularly.

So I guess this is why some works of art say

On Loan From the “Smith” Collection

That way the museum gets to display it without ownership

FYI, the process of disposing of something in a museum is called “deaccessioning.”

Donation means just that - the owner relinquishes all rights to it. Permanent loan is probably what you are thinking about - though even then the owners’ rights are sometimes just ignored if decades have gone by and he can’t be traced or has died. Some museums won’t accept stuff on anything other than outright gift terms

NOT by people with any respect for the English language!

For the love of Webster, why in the world not?

It’s the absolute standard term, used by everyone today and for as many decades back as I can remember.

You have to pick your museum right if you want them to hold onto your donation. You need some place that needs your art, not someplace that will put it away except for loans and special exhibits.

I could be wrong but I think t-bonham was just saying that particular combiniation of consonants and vowels just don’t parse with the English tongue very well.

Again, why not? Accessioning is the standard term in the profession. Professional jargon is a part of the English language - any language, for that matter - that goes as far back into its history as we can trace. Accessioning is a standard word that parses perfectly well from accession, and accession with access. De- is also a historically proper way of indicating a negative.

How can you possibly say that any piece of this word doesn’t “parse with the English tongue very well.” What could that possibly mean? It’s built up from standard forms just like any other well-accepted multisyllable English word.

There is nothing wrong with the word for any English speaker, pedant or no. So I ask once more, under what grounds would anyone have an issue with this word?

Someone likes a word a little too much.

Can donors include a proviso that forbids deaccessioning?

Markxxx, in general I think you’re right. It’s part of the larger phenomenon of the owner wanting an escape hatch in case their relationship with the museum founders. They may even go so far as to say “Promised Gift from Armand Gilbert”, but they can still easily back out. LACMA lost a couple of promised collections this way; Armand Hammer withdrew his collection and built his own museum a few miles west, in Westwood. What with it being only a moderately reputed collection, its loos was not much to worry about since it didn’t leave town. By contrast, the abrupt decision by Arthur Gilbert to remove his promised world-class collection of mosaics and metalwork to London was a terrible blow to us.

In both these cases, the prospective donors began to make demands that the institution could not agree too. As is undoubtedly typical, they wanted their gifts to be displayed in a particular way, one that involved devoting space to it that the Museum couldn’t afford. One can understand their point, but one would also expect them to understand the realities of operating a public cultural institution, one of which is that there’s never enough money to build the kind of exhibit space everyone wants to have. IIRC Gilbert, if still alive, remains on the LACMA board even today, so these things have a way of working themselves out amicably. But damn, I miss those mosaics.

Any of you living in London, please go to Somerset House and remember me to those mosaics, and the 5000 y.o. golden ewer from Anatolia, the solid gold coffee set from Saint Petersburg, and of course the pietre-dure Florentine mosaic of a still life in which items on a slab of stone are cunningly rendered by large polished blocks of stone, chosen so the natural shading of the stone would enhance the realism of the image.

Well, it only goes back to 1972, so apparently it’s not that standard.

That is, assuming that museums have been around longer than that. Plus, it doesn’t appear in the OED at all, so for some English speakers there’s probably something wrong with it.

Actually, ‘de-accession’, in exactly this sense, is in the online OED. Which is unsurprising, as it is the standard professional term on both sides of the Atlantic for the practice.

And therein lies a tale. No sooner had Sir Arthur Gilbert been dead for a decent interval than the trustees of the London gallery closed it down and handed the collection over to the V&A. The V&A plan to display part of it together in a new gallery within their South Kensington building, but other parts will be merged with their existing collections or displayed elsewhere. Why? Lack of visitor numbers to the Somerset House gallery was the official reason. But there had always been plenty of people within the London museum world who were predicting this would happen. The general feeling was that the collection would certainly have been an important and honourable addition to the exisiting national museums. But ‘world-class’? Hardly. Especially when viewed against the other London museums. The separate museum had only ever been created to persuade Gilbert to donate the collection to the nation. Just like his knighthood. Once he was safely dead, his wishes were ignored. But this was not de-accessioning; the pieces remain the property of the nation.

As a general rule, the major British museums are either prevented by law from de-accessioning items from their collections or view it as a vulgar American practice.

Indeed, the British Museum’s charter strictly forbids ANY item from leaving the collection, whether by sale, gift or repatriation. Just one of the reasons why the Greeks haven’t got their marbles back.

It depends on locations, conditions on the donation and so forth.

I have a black glass vase I bought off a museum in Prague; it’s authentic, the same period as everything else they have (art deco), but not particularly valuable. That particular museum sells minor pieces like my vase frequently.

El Prado OTOH I think has a similar charter to that of the British Museum. They have twice as many works as space for them, even with the new expansion.

Certainly. But museums aren’t forced to accept gifts-in-kind like artwork, and a donor’s insistence that such a proviso be attached to the donation often makes museums rather less amenable to accepting the gift.

The Wallace Collection is forbidden, by the terms of the original bequest, from parting with anything (even on loan) or acquiring anything new. They never have.

Which is the most obvious example I had in mind. And it is more than its royal charter that restricts it in this way, as it was created by an Act of Parliament which requires it to hold its collections in perpetuity. Hence the argument that only an Act of Parliament could return the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles. Less obvious is the fact that almost all the other national museums in London have been hived off from the BM by further Acts and so are restricted in the same way. Although these bans are not quite an absolute ones, as they can actually dispose of certain types of objects, such as duplicates.

A local (Nashville) college, Fisk University, was given a huge art collection by Georgia O’Keefe, part of her husband’s Steiglitz Collection. This is a small Black college that could really use some money. They were trying to sell some pieces, both because they need cash and because the building housing the art was in bad shape. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum in NM tried to take the collection because they said Fisk was violating the Trust under which they were given the pieces.

After lots of legal wrangling, the pieces are back on display at Fisk.

Fisk Article