St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to sell off Eakins artworks

"The Right Reverend James F. Loughlin" (1902), by Thomas Eakins, to be sold by St. Charles Borromeo.

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary will sell off a number of valuable artworks from its collection, including five portraits by renowned Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins.

The seminary has entered into an agreement with Christie’s for a private consignment sale of the works, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Friday.

A sixth Eakins painting housed at the seminary but owned by the American Catholic Historical Society will also be put up for consignment.

“The seminary has long been a steward of these works, but this was the right time to seize an opportunity to do what is best for the artwork and for the seminary itself,” St. Charles rector Bishop Timothy Senior said in a statement.

“We will keep many of the paintings in our collection but the core mission of the seminary is to form men for service in the priesthood. We are not a museum.” 

Most of the Eakins portraits slated for sale feature past faculty members and have been in the seminary’s care for 80 years, according to the archdiocese. 

The seminary is also consigning two additional artworks – one by Impressionist painter Colin Campbell Cooper and a second by Pennsylvania-born portrait artist Alice Neel. One sale will be brokered by Bonhams; the second, by Sotheby’s.

Proceeds from the sales are expected to help pay for a major overhaul of St. Charles’ Main Line campus. Plans call for both shrinking the seminary and renovating its existing facilities.

“Our hope is that, as a result of this decision, the Eakins paintings will find a home where they can be well cared for and viewed widely by people from across the country,” Senior said. “What we’re doing is consistent with our overall efforts [to] reenergize the seminary and focus on its mission while building for the future.”

St. Charles’ Board of Trustees agreed to sell the paintings following a yearlong study by a committee of art specialists and seminary alumni and administrators, according to a news release from the archdiocese. 

Though the seminary previously looked into working with local museums and historical societies in the hopes that an institution would make an offer for the artworks, no willing partner could be found, the archdiocese said.

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