Originally created 04/24/04

Over art lovers' protests, museum auctions French painting



NEW YORK -- A 19th-century painting that art lovers did not want to be sold by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has been auctioned.

The winning bid was below its estimated value.

"The Bohemian," by French artist William Bouguereau, went for $650,000 at Christie's auction house Thursday. Its presale estimate was $700,000 to $900,000. The price does not include Christie's commission.

Museum trustees voted in December to sell the painting of a Parisian Gypsy girl to raise money to buy other art.

The sale upset many art lovers, who said the museum's decision was an aesthetic and financial mistake. Last week in Minneapolis, several of them protested the sale, while critics elsewhere voiced their support.

Fred Ross, founder of the Art Renewal Center, an online museum that champions 19th-century realistic painting, condemned the museum's "disastrous decisions" on his Web site and placed ads in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis objecting to the sale.

"It could end up anywhere - Outer Mongolia or Japan," Ross told the newspaper. "This is a great, great painting, and America deserves it."

Christie's said a private American collector bought the work.

The museum purchased "The Bohemian" from the Minneapolis Public Library for $3,500 in 1974, when the artist was out of fashion. Since then, scholars have been reassessing his work, and collectors are snapping it up.

Although "The Bohemian" fetched less than anticipated, three other Bouguereau paintings of single female figures that were sold Thursday at Christie's met or exceeded estimates, reaping a total of $643,000.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts said in a statement Thursday: "We respect the sentiments expressed by those who opposed the sale. We hope that they will visit the museum and enjoy the artworks in our permanent collection."

Patrick Noon, the institute's painting curator, has said that proceeds from the sale of "The Bohemian" would be used to acquire "Battledore," an 1868 painting by English artist Albert Moore. Noon said that the Moore painting was a more significant work done by an artist who was not in the museum's collection.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts owns Bouguereau's "Temptation," a work Noon said is more important than "The Bohemian."