The Corcoran Gallery of Art plans to sell 10 paintings from its permanent collection at a public auction in December as a first step toward refining the museum's focus and providing funds for purchasing future works. The sale is an extremely rare move for a Washington museum, but not surprising for the Corcoran, which has grappled with its direction and finances for several years. The sale is part of a forthcoming five-year strategic plan examining what the Corcoran should be and how it can achieve stability. Future sales are under discussion. The lot to be "de-accessioned" includes "John Ellery," an 1810 work by Gilbert Stuart, the master portrait artist, and "The Return From the Tournament" an 1841 landscape by Thomas Cole, a founder of the movement called the Hudson River School.
In recent years, finances of the museum and its College of Art + Design were a matter of concern to the museum's board, the city and the donor base. For many years the museum carried recurring deficits of $1 million or more and had difficulty raising funds for much-needed repairs on the landmark 19th-century building. A vigorous attempt to raise $200 million for an ambitious extension by architect Frank Gehry failed.