I have little sentimental attachment to the work of Fernand Léger, so the news that Wellesley's Davis Museum somehow "lost" Woman and Child (left) didn't hit me in the gut the way the famous Gardner Museum robbery did so many years ago. Still, the scandal resonates in a peculiar way - it simply seems so incredible. How could the Davis have destroyed one of its greatest treasures (apparently it was tossed out while still in a packing crate after its return from the Oklahoma City Museum of Art)? True, the painting was in storage for months during the renovation of the Davis. Still, wasn't almost everything else?
And there are other oddities about the story. The Léger was packed, according to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, with works by Armand Guillaumin and László Moholy-Nagy - only those works seem to have been accounted for. And according to the Globe, the disappearance of the painting was discovered last November - nine months ago (in fact Wellesley has already gotten the insurance payment). One wonders why it took the college so long to make the news public. It wasn't, of course, exactly a secret within Wellesley, but the Globe story seems to imply that the college had only issued "two short statements" in response to its inquiries. Did they think everyone was going to just forget about the Léger?
Even more strangely, so far there seems to be no movement toward accountability. Davis registrar Bo Mompho seems closest to the events in question - one wonders whether or not she is facing an inquiry. One might ask the same questions regarding Davis Museum Director David Mickenberg. Valued at somewhere around $2.8 million, the Léger was surely one of the Davis's prize possessions. It hardly seems possible it could simply disappear without some kind of response from the college.
One can't help but feel a certain dismay at the whole affair - along with the dispiriting sense that this seems to be about what one should expect from our academic art museums. After all, not so long ago Boston College was promoting the now-discredited "Matter Pollocks" (the idea seemed to be that, despite the claims of scientific analysis, we should all be free to decide the paintings were Pollocks if we liked them). And wasn't Harvard essentially administering the Gardner at the time of its famous heist? (Never mind that a good chunk of the Fogg is currently falling apart and has to be replaced.) Makes you wonder what exactly it is these institutions are trying to teach.