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Harvard museums to sell Cassatt work

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Harvard University Art Museums officials have decided to sell a Mary Cassatt painting that Christie's auction house estimates could bring as much as $5 million when it goes on the block Dec. 1. The brightly colored oil, titled "Mother and Two Children," explores a familiar motif for the American-born artist, who spent most of her life in France.

Painted in 1906, the work was given to Harvard in 1922 by Ernest G.

Stillman, a member of the class of 1907. The painting has rarely been on display. Money from the sale will go into the museums' acquisitions fund and is most likely to be used to buy a work by the same artist, according to Theodore Stebbins, curator of American Art at the Fogg Art Museum.

"Mary Cassatt's a very important painter, and we'd really like to have her brilliantly represented here," said Stebbins. "So if we could buy one of the great, early Cassatt pastels or one of the great Cassatt color prints, that's certainly something we would like to do."

Stebbins, a longtime curator at the Museum of Fine Arts before his resignation in 1999, said that he examined the painting shortly after taking his current job in 2002. After having it cleaned, he installed it in a gallery in 2003 but ultimately decided the money the museum could get from its sale "could be better used elsewhere." He suggested selling it, a recommendation endorsed by Harvard museum officials and the university's corporation. The work will be offered in a sale at Christie's titled "Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture."

A Harvard spokesman said that the museums did not contact the Stillman family because museum policy does not require it.

"Major large oils by Cassatt are very scarce on the market, so it's actually something of an event that this is coming up," said Eric Widing, the head of American art at Christie's.

c.2005 The Boston Globe

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