Lincoln University May Fight for Control of Valuable Art, Judge Says
A judge ruled last month that Lincoln University, a historically Black college outside Philadelphia, may fight a court petition that would dilute its control over a valuable, world-renowned collection of art.
Lincoln opposes a petition by The Barnes Foundation that would eliminate Lincoln’s long-standing majority on the foundation’s board of trustees. The petition also would move the Barnes’ collection of Cezannes, Picassos, Renoirs and van Goghs from a Philadelphia suburb to the city.
Montgomery County Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley Ott ruled that Lincoln has legal standing to fight the Barnes’ petition at trial. Ott ruled against three art students who also sought standing to oppose the petition. He also refused standing to the Violette de Mazia Trust, which runs art classes at the Barnes but has had a rocky relationship with foundation officials, nor to Ronald W. Taylor, a retired art teacher and former Barnes student.
The Barnes Foundation wants to move the art to Philadelphia’s museum district so that it can attract more patrons and shore up its shaky finances.
Such a move is forbidden by the intricate will left by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1951; the document said he wanted the art to stay in a gallery in suburban Lower Merion Township. The will also empowered Lincoln University to nominate four of the foundation’s five trustees.
The proposal submitted by the foundation in Orphans’ Court would move the art and increase the number of trustees to 15, with Lincoln still nominating four.
Barnes officials called Ott’s ruling a “significant legal victory” because it eliminated three of the four parties seeking to quash the petition.
“Relocating the main collection and expanding the board are vital changes that are necessary to ensure the survival of The Barnes Foundation,” says Bernard Watson, president of the Barnes board.
Terrance Kline, the students’ attorney, said they are considering an appeal. The students argue that moving the art could have a “deleterious effect” on the foundation’s educational mission and result in elimination of classes that teach students the Barnes method of art appreciation.
“We hope that Lincoln University will carry the students’ flag in future litigation,” Kline says.
The Barnes has one of the world’s most significant private art collections, with 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes and several Picassos, as well as American Indian jewelry, African sculpture and Pennsylvania Dutch furniture.
But the collection has been handicapped financially by zoning regulations in affluent Lower Merion — the Barnes is limited to only 400 visitors a day, three days a week — and by some of the restrictions in Barnes’ will.
Barnes’ $10 million endowment — required to be invested in conservative, low-yielding government securities — was exhausted in 1999.
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