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La Salle artworks attract mild interest at New York auction

Seven works of art failed to sell at all and several sold for less than their pre-auction estimates.

Detail from the 1865 oil that was the high seller, going for $672,500, including fees. Seven works did not sell, and 17 have yet to be offered.
Detail from the 1865 oil that was the high seller, going for $672,500, including fees. Seven works did not sell, and 17 have yet to be offered.Read moreLa Salle Univ. Art Museum via AP

In a series of three auctions conducted Wednesday and Thursday by Christie's in New York, 22 artworks formerly belonging to the La Salle University Art Museum were sold for a total of $2.4 million, a shade above the low estimate put on the works by Christie's.

The sales prices include Christie's fees, however, with actual sales prices sometimes far lower.

Seven works failed to sell at all.

Christie's did not immediately respond to inquiries about the identity of the buyers.

The work that fetched the highest amount was Jean‐Auguste‐Dominique Ingres' 1865 oil, Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus, which sold for $672,500, including the Christie's fees. The hammer price was reportedly $550,000 — well below the $600,000 pre-auction low estimate.

In December, La Salle's administration and board of trustees approved the de-accessioning of 46 works of art from the museum collection. The works were removed from museum walls, where most of them were hanging, and shipped off to New York amid much disgruntlement among La Salle students, faculty, and alumni.

The negative feelings stirred up by the sales, which administrators have insisted will bolster teaching and capital projects central to the school's strategic plan, continue to disturb the campus.

Student Paul Fitzpatrick, cofounder of the Friends of the La Salle Art Museum, which opposes the auctions, said his group was not so much resigned to losing the art as feeling powerless and frustrated.

"Rather than working with their community, consulting them, or treating them as peers, the university has acted unilaterally to make what is both an unethical decision and a bad business move," Fitzpatrick wrote in an email. "Speaking for the Friends of the La Salle Art Museum, we have tried to channel the community's frustrations and real concerns in a way that is productive and constructive. However, the administration chose instead to stonewall itself from the community."

La Salle officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cornelia Tsakiridou, professor of philosophy at La Salle, said the controversy over the sale may have awakened the school's faculty.

She cited a now-active and growing chapter of the American Association of University Professors as evidence.

"I think this is the result of the art sale and the administration's lack of consultation with the faculty in this and other decisions," Tsakiridou said. "There is also concern that faculty are increasingly sidelined in decisions that affect pedagogy, mission, and free speech."

There is no firm word on the fate of future art sales. Christie's has yet to schedule auctions for the remaining 17 works it holds.