A Tennessee judge has ruled that a valuable art collection Georgia O'Keeffe donated to Fisk University remain with the school, but she also permanently banned officials from selling any of the artworks.
Though Fisk broke the terms of O'Keeffe's donation by attempting to sell part of the collection, the pieces should still stay with the school, according to the decision issued by Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle of the Chancery Court in Nashville on Thursday.
The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico, which represents the painter's estate, had filed a suit against Fisk to gain rights over the collection, which includes her signature 1927 work, Radiator Building — Night, New York.
In recent years, the financially troubled university has made several attempts to sell artworks from the collection. It also proposed selling a share of the artworks to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, a gallery founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. These attempts were thwarted by previous rulings from Lyle.
The Santa Fe museum had argued it should take over the collection because these sale attempts and the school's decision to remove the artworks from display in 2005 went against the stipulations of O'Keeffe's original bequest to the historically black university.
Fisk maintained that the paintings were put in storage for security purposes while the gallery that housed them was under renovation. Officials also revealed in February that a rush of recent donations would allow the school to quickly complete its gallery revamp and mount the works again.
As part of her ruling, Lyle set an October deadline for the school to return the paintings to display.
Following closing arguments of the trial in February, both the O'Keeffe Museum and Fisk officials vowed to appeal if they did not agree with the judge's ruling.
O'Keeffe donated the 101-piece Alfred Stieglitz collection of modern American and European art to Fisk in 1949. Comprising works by O'Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the collection had belonged to her late husband, a photographer and art promoter. It has been valued at more than $70 million US.