In what is being called its first acquisition of a major American painting, the National Gallery in London confirmed this week that is has purchased George Bellows' 1912 painting "Men of the Docks" for $25.5 million.
The painting has resided for many years at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College in Virginia. The sale was part of a controversial decision by college leaders to deaccession certain works of art in order to shore up its finances.
Museum leaders around the country had condemned the college's decision to deaccession art for the purposes of funding other operations. The decision also riled students and some faculty at the college.
The National Gallery said Friday that money to purchase the painting came from a fund established by the late John Paul Getty Jr. -- son of J. Paul Getty -- as well as from anonymous sources. It said the purchase is part of a "new, transatlantic academic partnership" with Randolph College that will include lectures and student exchanges.
Leaders at the National Gallery said the purchase marks a new direction in its acquisition policy -- "seeking to represent paintings in the Western European tradition, rather than solely those made by artists working in Western Europe."
"Men of the Docks" had been a key component of the Maier Museum's collection, having been acquired in 1920 with money raised by students.
Museum leaders around the U.S. rallied to condemn Randolph College leaders in 2010 after the school's intention to sell a handful of artworks to bolster its finances became known. In 2008, the college sold Rufino Tamayo's 1945 painting "Troubadour" for $7.2 million.
On Thursday, the college said that the sale of the Bellows painting "fulfills a crucial aspect of the college's strategic plan, bolstering Randolph’s endowment and strengthening its finances, but is notable especially for making Randolph College the only U.S. educational institution with a collaborative relationship with the National Gallery."