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Museum Acquires 177-Year-Old Sculptures After 5 Years In Court

January 16, 1985

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The Philadelphia Art Museum announced a happy ending Wednesday to a five- year court battle over the sculptures, ″Comedy″ and ″Tragedy,″ by acquiring the 177-year-old statues as part of its permanent collection.

The unpainted pine figures had been on loan to the museum since 1926, but the owner decided in 1980 to sell them at auction. The city, which owns the art museum, sued to prevent the sale. For most of the past five years, the figures have been in storage.

The price of the two statues was not disclosed, but a bid of $300,000 was reported for them in 1980. The board of directors of the Edwin Forrest Home for retired actors, the previous owner, had insisted on auctioning them off until now.

″It was an amicable resolution,″ said Art Museum Director Anne d’Harnoncourt. ″If there was ever a case of works of art being a part of the life and spirit of a city, ‘Comedy’ and ‘Tragedy’ are those.″

The purchase was the result of years of negotiations that just ended a few days ago, said museum spokeswoman Sandra Horrocks. The museum paid for the sculptures with the help of a grant from the Mary Anderson Trust.

″I’m glad the situation finally is resolved,″ said Frank C.P. McGlinn, former vice president of the Forrest board. ″I’m delighted they will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I couldn’t think of a better place for them to be.″

Rush gained renown for his carved figureheads on merchant vessels. His most famous composition is the life-size sculpture of George Washington in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The son of a ship’s carpenter, Rush depicted the two aspects of theater as women dressed in flowing gowns. ″Comedy″ holds a mirror over her head in her right hand and the smiling mask from ancient Greece in her left. ″Tragedy″ eyes a goblet in her left hand while the frowning mask lies at her feet.

The two statues were carved for the Philadelphia’s New Theater, just up the street from Independence Hall.

They stood in second-story niches in the facade of the theater until 1820, when they were saved from a fire that destroyed the building. The theater rebuilt and installed them in the new building.

When the second building was razed in 1855, Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest acquired them for his country estate. That estate, Springbrook, became the actors’ home after Forrest died.

The board loaned the statues to the Art Museum in 1926, but since the decision to sell them in 1980, they have been stored at Christie’s auction house in New York City. They came out briefly for an exhibition of Rush’s work in 1982 at another museum.

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