La Salle University hopes to raise millions from selling art

La Salle University is selling nearly 50 pieces of art from its museum collection which it thinks could raise millions as it deals with financial struggles that have led to layoffs.

The sale includes a wide range of styles and genres, including paintings by American realist Thomas Eakins and early 17th century Italian Bartolomeo Manfredi, as well as an ink-on-paper by Henri Matisse.

The five most valuable works alone could bring in between $2.3 and $3.45 million, university spokeswoman Jaine Lucas said. They include Elisabeth Frink's "Walking Madonna" bronze statue and Georges Rouault's oil painting "The Last Romantic," Christies has told the school.

The school will sell 46 pieces of art that could bring $4 million to $7 million, and possibly much more, Lucas said.

Christie's auction house has been selected to handle the auction, which is tentatively set for March.

Some members of the Philadelphia art community have criticized La Salle's decision.

"This sort of feels like they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it's going to change the museum," Ron Rumford, director of Dolan/Maxwell, private art dealers in Philadelphia, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The university, which has about 3,200 students, has been trying to bounce back from a deficit and layoffs. It also has slashed tuition to battle an enrollment decline.

Public opposition has sunk similar plans at other universities to sell cherished art collections.

Brandeis University near Boston announced plans in 2009 to close its Rose Art Museum and sell $350 million in artwork in response to a budget crisis. But museum supporters filed a lawsuit, and the idea was dropped.

Randolph College sold an important piece of its art collection — "Men of the Docks" by George Bellows — to Britain's National Gallery for $25.5 million in 2014 after years of opposition.

"Men of the Docks" was one of four valuable paintings in the Randolph collection that the college planned to sell in 2007 to boost its endowment.

Some outraged Randolph employees resigned in protest of the plan, and opponents obtained an injunction blocking the sale, but the lawsuit was eventually dropped.