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Dogging the Orange County Museum's surprise Redmond sale

June 15, 2009 |  1:13 pm

Granville RedmondToday's news that the Orange County Museum of Art surreptitiously sold 18 of its 20 early California plein-air paintings for a relatively modest price to an undisclosed private collector in Laguna Beach is remarkable on many levels. Not least is the private sale's clear deviance from professional standards for deaccessioning that guide the Assn. of Art Museum Directors.

The AAMD handbook states: "Preferred methods of disposal are sale through publicly advertised auction, sale to or exchange with another public institution, and sale or exchange to a reputable, established dealer." Private transactions with an anonymous local collector don't get mentioned. Why? The listed methods are there for the protection of vulnerable nonprofit art museums, which operate as public charities, by providing at least one layer of distance between buyer and seller. Art museums aren't commercial galleries.

While we're puzzling all this out, here's a slight diversion. The star painting in the transaction is probably Granville Redmond's 1918 "Silver and Gold" (above), a rolling coastal landscape that Laguna Art Museum director Bolton Colburn described to The Times as “an A-plus, a perfect Redmond, one of the five best paintings he ever did.” The artist painted it the same year he appeared in his first Charlie Chaplin movie, "A Dog's Life."

Redmond, age 47 at his cinematic debut, wasn't an aspiring actor so much as an inspiration for Chaplin, who was in the process of refining a gestural repertoire for communicating on film without benefit of sound. Redmond was deaf, the result of childhood illness. He had learned sign-language (and much else) at the Berkeley School for the Deaf, and his expressive capacities were helpful to Chaplin -- who also admired his paintings.

Chaplin made "A Dog's Life" when he was wresting control of his own productions away from the companies for which he had worked. Redmond appeared in eight Chaplin films, usually uncredited, including 1931's classic "City Lights." (It was his last; the painter died in 1935). Below is a clip from "A Dog's Life," with Redmond cast as the crude, cigar-chomping dance-hall proprietor:

--Christopher Knight

Related story: OCMA sells paintings to private collector, prompting criticism

Credit: Laguna Art Museum

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