Marguerite Hoffman Sues Over Sale of Rothko Painting

There are a couple of things I don’t understand about this story. So Marguerite Hoffman and her husband Robert donate their art collection to the DMA in 2005. But then, in 2007, Marguerite sells a Rothko painting because, after Robert died in 2006, her financial situation was shaky and she needed some liquidity. The first thing I don’t understand is how you can donate something and then sell it because you need the money. When the Hoffmans made their generous gift (along with the Roses and Rachofskys), they did so with the stipulation that they could continue to refine and edit their collection, and make reluctant sales if necessary. That makes sense. But what if Marguerite decided for some reason that she wanted to sell two more paintings — or everything she donated? It just seems like there’s a strange gray area here. What, really, does the donation consist of? Everything she doesn’t sell before she dies?

The second thing I don’t understand is the lawsuit itself. She sold the Rothko to a bloke on the condition that he keep the sale private. But then he turned around and sold it at auction — not very secret — for $31.4 million. The suit says Marguerite  “was determined to avoid the embarrassment that she believed would ensue if the fact of the sale became public.” So why sue? Doesn’t that make this whole ugly business that much MORE public? And why be embarrassed? Because she needed some liquidity after her husband died and the market went to hell? I think a lot of wealthy people would understand that. Or would she be embarrassed because she gave something to the museum and then sold it?

I’m sorry. I’m not a good journalist. All I have is questions.

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