Family, church feud over portrait of priest

From The New York Times: 

The family of Msgr. Patrick J. Garvey, a Catholic priest who was once friendly with the realist painter Thomas Eakins, is trying to block the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from selling a valuable Eakins portrait of the monsignor through the auction house Christie’s.

The archdiocese said that the painting was given to the church decades ago, and that the sale of it, and several other paintings, is essential to boost the finances of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Monsignor Garvey had been rector and where the portrait hung for many years.

But the Garveys, who say their extended family has sent 40 sons into the priesthood, insist that the painting was only on loan to the church. They want it back, so they can find another religious institution to care for it.

“We have no intent to sell,” said Robert E. Goldman, a lawyer for Monsignor Garvey’s family. “We simply seek to preserve and safeguard the painting, so it can be displayed in a place that honors his memory.”

Mr. Goldman said that in coming weeks family members would be going church to church with cards they have printed asking parishioners to join in the fight to keep the painting from being sold.

The seminary, in Wynnewood, just west of Philadelphia, announced inMarch that it planned to sell five Eakins portraits of religious leaders and two other paintings — “Saint Peter’s Cathedral” by Colin Campbell Cooper, a student of Eakins, and Alice Neel’s 1976 portrait of Archbishop Jean Jadot — from its 200-work collection. The Eakins are being handled as private sales through Christie’s, which has declined to release any values for the works.

“The core mission of the seminary is to form men for service in the priesthood,” the seminary’s rector, Bishop Timothy C. Senior, said in a news release at the time. “We are not a museum. Our hope is that as a result of this decision, the Eakins paintings will find a home where they can be well cared for and viewed widely.”

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