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Corcoran Gallery’s Merger With D.C. Institutions Approved

A District of Columbia Superior Court judge approved a plan for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington’s oldest private museum, to merge with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.

Today’s ruling permits the parties to proceed with the transfer of ownership of the Corcoran’s historic 17th Street building and the College of Art and Design to George Washington University, and of custody of its art collection to the National Gallery, the institutions said in a statement.

“The court finds it painful to issue an order that effectively dissolves the Corcoran as an independent entity,” Associate Judge Robert Okun said in a 48-page ruling. “But this court would find it even more painful to deny the relief requested and allow the Corcoran to face its likely demise -- the likely dissolution of the college, the closing of the gallery, and the dispersal of the gallery’s entire collection.”

The approval was necessary given the museum’s financial circumstances, Okun said, after contributions fell and expenses rose. Announced in February, the plan spurred Save the Corcoran, a group including donors, faculty members and students from the institution, to appear in court to present alternatives to the merger proposal, according to court papers.

“The Corcoran as we know it is gone,” the group said today on its Facebook page.

Started in 1869 from the private collection of William Wilson Corcoran, co-founder of Corcoran & Riggs bank, the museum is known for its holdings of historic and modern American art. Its works include Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 landscape “Niagara” and Rembrandt Peale’s 1824 canvas “Washington Before Yorktown.”

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