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Field Museum Sells Paintings for $15.5M

December 3, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) _ The Field Museum has sold a series of Western scenes and 19th-century American Indian portraits at auction for $15.5 million, money the museum will use to buy new pieces for its collections.

The 31 paintings done in 1831 by artist George Catlin were sold Thursday along with three others to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby’s in New York.

The museum bought the collection for $1,250 in 1893.

With the proceeds of the sale, the museum will set up a special endowment so it can buy new objects and specimens, museum president John McCarter said in a statement.

In the 1830s, Catlin traveled out West to document Native American culture before it was altered or erased. He painted some of history’s most notable American Indians, including the Sauk and Fox Chief Black Hawk and his lieutenant, White Cloud.

Catlin’s portrait of Chief Black Hawk is one of four the museum is keeping.

The museum’s decision to sell the Catlin collection wasn’t completely embraced, with two trustees voting against the sale.

Field Museum anthropologist Jonathan Haas said he suggested selling the paintings because they no longer fit with the rest of the museum’s collection and many of the paintings had been kept in storage.

``We felt that the paintings represented a resource that could be more effectively used to acquire new collections,″ he said. ``This is a standard procedure for museums. ... In the art museum world, this has been going on for at least a quarter century.″

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