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The Collation

The Return of the Prodigal Painting(s)

I’d guess that few people look at Appendix III in the back of William L. Pressly, Catalogue of Paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Library (Yale University Press, 1993). Appendix III is unillustrated, not very detailed, and rather depressing: it’s the list of paintings that are no longer part of the Folger collection. In all, sixty-three paintings were de-accessioned between 1961 and 1964. Most had been purchased for the library by Mr. and Mrs. Folger themselves.

De-accessioning is an ethical minefield. For some institutions, it could be a necessary sacrifice whereby selling one extraordinarily valuable item can fund an endowment to pay the rent and keep the lights on, thus preserving the rest of the collection. Less controversially, de-accessioning can place out-of-scope material in a suitable home. The paintings de-accessioned by the Folger in the early 1960s fell into a different category, one that might be called intellectual short-sightedness today: despite being Shakespearean, the paintings seemed irrelevant. They fell victim to an intellectual milieu that valued printed and written words, not visual evidence, as primary sources. As the Folger’s current Collection Development Policy makes clear, this is no longer the case. 

  1. Almost all had been purchased between 1905 and 1929, but the inflation rate of approximately 70% was not taken into account.
  2. Shakespeareana: paintings, watercolors, drawings, ceramics and tapestries; the property of the American Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut; exhibition from Friday, January 9, 1976 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, January 14, 1976 … public auction Thursday, January 15, 1976 at 2:00 p.m. New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1976.
  3. According to the US Consumer Price Index, something purchased for $200 in 1928 would cost $2,694.49 in 2012. In other words, the painting beat inflation.


This is a wonderful post about wonderful news–thanks, Erin!

Carol Brobeck — October 15, 2012

Wow, I love that George Francis painting! I’ll look forward to seeing it and to having it be joined by more of its kind.

Sarah Werner — October 15, 2012

Interesting that both works were sold by Skinner. The folk art piece is gorgeous, makes one wonder how it could have been let go in the first place!

Carrie Smith — October 19, 2012