The Laguna Art Museum has quietly put two “inferior” Frank Cuprien paintings up for auction.
Museum officials are downplaying the sale and say they do not expect a public outcry, which has happened in the past over disposing of pieces from the museum’s permanent collection. The sale was approved by the board of trustees.
“These are not very good pieces,” museum director Bolton Colburn said. “We have some excellent examples of [Cuprien’s] work, which we champion and will continue to champion.”
Cuprien who was born in 1865 and died in 1946, was a member of Laguna Beach Art Assn., a group of plein-air artists who shaped — for all time — Laguna’s image of itself as an art colony.
The locally popular artist reportedly strode around town clad in knickers, puttees and belted jackets, and had a studio on Coast Highway for many years.
The association built the art gallery on the corner of South Coast Highway and Cliff Drive that morphed into the museum.
A city street and a gallery at the museum were named for Cuprien. The site of his Viking Studio next to the Surf & Sand Resort is commemorated with a sculpture of an idealized ship.
One of the Cuprien works the museum put on the block is a desert scene, the other was described by Colburn as a “kind of poor seascape.”
“Frank Cuprien painted a lot of small studies of the ocean under all different conditions,” said Jan Sattler, city arts commissioner and an artist who grew up in Laguna. “One of my girlfriends’ fathers bought several of them for a very nominal amount of money in the 1950s.
“Without seeing the pieces [being sold], I couldn’t judge their artistic merit. But on the other hand, there are people in town who are interested in artists who made their base here and would like to know these paintings are available.”
Colburn declined to discuss details of the discussions that led to the decision to sell the two Cuprien paintings or release the location of the sale.
“We generally don’t disclose the auction house to avoid an insider transaction or improprieties,” Colburn said.
Pieces sold by the museum are identified in auction-house catalogues and collectors all get those catalogues, Colburn noted.
The process of selling works owned by a museum is called de-accession — generally used to shed works of lesser quality, with the proceeds often used to upgrade a collection. However, Colburn said, there are no legal restrictions placed on the use of the proceeds.
The curatorial staff at the Laguna museum recommends pieces for de-accession to the Collectors Committee, but the final decision is made by the board of trustees.