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Something aberrant is accident at Seattle Art Museum — or, rather, not happening.

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Dozens of pieces from a clandestine art collection, account hundreds of millions of dollars, already apprenticed for the museum, are now headed to auction.

In 2007, Barney A. Ebsworth, a luxury-travel magnate and internationally accepted art collector, about promised 65 above artworks to Seattle Art Architecture (SAM) — including Edward Hopper’s “Chop Suey,” a 1929 oil painting of two women talking anxiously in an admiral New York restaurant.

“For me, giving to your bounded architecture is the appropriate affair to do,” Ebsworth said to The Stranger at the time. That year, Ebsworth and added bounded donors apprenticed an estimated $1 billion account of art to bless three things: SAM’s big burghal expansion, the Olympic Carve Park and SAM’s 75th anniversary. “We’re thrilled,” then-SAM administrator Mimi Gates told The Seattle Times.

Fast-forward 11 years: Ebsworth died in April. This week, about 100 works from his collection, including best — or alike all — of the 65 promised to SAM, are up for bargain in a two-day bargain that ends Nov. 14. (SAM beneath afresh requests to lath a account of the aboriginal 65 to analyze adjoin the Christie’s catalog.)

Christie’s estimates the collection’s amount at about amid $261 actor and $364 million, with above works by Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe and others. A Christie’s agent alleged it “the best cogent clandestine accumulating of 20th-century American art anytime to appear to market.” Its acme jewel: Hopper’s “Chop Suey,” admired at $70 million-$100 million. To pump up the bargain of the collection, the bargain abode has taken Ebsworth’s art on a admirable tour — the Paris Biennale, London, Hong Kong — to allure the eyes and wallets of the world’s wealthiest art-collecting elite.

What happened? How did such a momentous, awful publicized bequeathal from Ebsworth’s internationally vaunted accumulating blooper out from beneath SAM’s nose?

SAM doesn’t appetite to allocution about it.

Current and above architecture officials, as able-bodied as architecture trustees, either batten in ambiguous acknowledgment of Ebsworth’s antecedent donations or beneath to comment.

Ebsworth’s five-page 2010 will offers few clues, advertence alone that his acreage belongs to the Barney A. Ebsworth Active Assurance — active trusts are not accountable to attainable scrutiny — with his sole child, babe Christiane Ebsworth Ladd, as its executor. She did not acknowledge to requests for comment. Nor did Ebsworth’s added and best contempo ex-spouse (he was affiliated four times).

What we do know: Instead of activity to SAM, attainable to the attainable in perpetuity, the Ebsworth accumulating will be disconnected up and awash to the accomplished bidders.

“It’s a tragedy for the city,” Seattle arcade buyer and art banker James Harris said. “I was afraid by the news. These are major, iconic paintings. It’s adamantine to acquisition things of that quality. I’m abundantly aghast in SAM.”

“They’re such important works,” said Jim Oliver, co-director of the acclaimed Mary Boone Arcade in New York. Ebsworth’s collection, he explained, was almighty focused and anxiously curated. “Younger collectors these canicule are like shotguns,” he said. “They aggregate a accomplished agglomeration of stuff — about added an broker mentality than connoisseurship.”

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But Ebsworth’s Pollock and de Kooning, Oliver noted, aren’t aloof any old Pollock or de Kooning. They’re the acceptable ones.

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Oliver said it was “unfortunate” that Ebsworth’s art accumulating couldn’t abide calm for attainable appearance — at, say, a architecture like SAM. “When things go to auction, it’s like sending all the accouchement to an orphanage.”

Ebsworth grew up in St. Louis, congenital his affluence in the biking industry (Royal Cruise Lines, Clipper Cruise Lines) and was a cogent aboriginal broker in Build-a-Bear Workshop. He confused to Seattle in 2003 — admitting he’d already abutting SAM’s lath in 2000, afterwards the architecture hosted “Twentieth Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection,” an exhibition organized by the National Arcade of Art.

Ebsworth’s best arresting allowance to the architecture came in 2013: “Echo,” an eerie, white, 46-foot-tall carve of a Greek nymph’s head by Spanish artisan Jaume Plensa that looms abreast the access to the Olympic Carve Park.

In interviews, Ebsworth said he begin a affection for art in 1956 while stationed with the Army in France, breadth he consistently visited the Louvre. His aboriginal adulation was the Old Masters. But in the aboriginal 1970s, as he started architecture a austere art collection, Ebsworth angry against American modernists (including Hopper and O’Keeffe) because those were works he could afford.

Eventually, he accumulated a accoutrement accumulating and assassin acclaimed bounded artist Jim Olson to body a abode in Hunts Point aloof to advertise it. Ebsworth called his home “An American Place.” You’d go blatant aggravating to name all the approved artists whose assignment afraid on its walls.

“His accumulating had architecture quality,” Oliver said. “It hit all the appropriate buttons. If a architecture didn’t accept American addition and they got this collection, they wouldn’t charge annihilation else.”

In 2007, the year of his big affiance to SAM, Ebsworth told ARTnews that he consistently advised for his accumulating to break calm and go to a museum.

That year, he additionally said SAM’s new burghal brand could assuredly lath his art. “With the expansion, now there is space,” he said to The Seattle Times — and added that with so few modernist masterpieces larboard on the market, his accumulating was added admired than ever.

“In effect,” he said, “it’s not accessible now to put that accumulating calm at any price.”

By that time, Ebsworth had been actively complex with museums beyond the country, including in Seattle, St. Louis, Honolulu, New York and Washington, D.C., as a lath affiliate and donor.

Sometimes, his ability had a showman’s flair: the behemothic “Echo,” for example, or the age-old casket of Amen-nestawy-nakht that Ebsworth bought for the St. Louis Art Museum. “That was emblematic of Barney,” architecture administrator Brent R. Benjamin said. “He knew a casket was a abundant way to allure accouchement to an art museum.”

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Ebsworth compared his clandestine accumulating to accouchement in their own right. In a 2017 “oral history” with the Smithsonian, he told a adventure about addition suggesting he advertise off admired paintings to buy more. “I anticipate that’s a little bit like having 12 kids and adage you’re alone activity to accept 12 kids,” Ebsworth told the Smithsonian, “and your wife gets abundant again, and you booty little Charlie abaft the barn and shoot him. I don’t anticipate I’m activity to [laughs] be able to do that.”

In that aforementioned interview, about absolutely a year afore he died, Ebsworth was active about the approaching of his art collection. “That has never been announced,” he said, contradicting several attainable statements he’d fabricated over the years.

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So what happened amid Ebsworth’s big affiance of 2007 and 2017, aback it articulate like he was accepting reservations?

Nobody wants to say.

Interviews with SAM administrator Kimerly Rorschach and lath admiral Stewart Landefeld (a accomplice at Perkins Coie law firm, which has represented Ebsworth’s babe and his active trust, the acknowledged awning accoutrement all his property) kept looping aback to talking points.

Rorschach referred all questions aback to a account she issued aloof afterwards Ebsworth’s death: “We are always beholden for the acceptable abutment he bestowed aloft SAM.” SAM did accept article from Ebsworth’s estate — four “partial gifts,” accustomed during his lifetime, were absolutely entered into the museum’s accumulating afterwards his death. Landefeld again deflected yes/no questions about the art and its fate with ambiguous hallelujahs: “Barney was an all-star trustee.”

Former SAM administrator Gates didn’t acknowledge to requests for comment. Patricia Junker, SAM’s babysitter of American art amid 2004 and 2018, beneath to comment. Best of the museum’s advisers either beneath to comment, didn’t acknowledge to requests for comment, or referred questions aback to Rorschach, who referred to her account and lath admiral Landefeld, who referred aback to Rorschach.

Among the questions SAM wouldn’t answer: When, absolutely did the architecture apperceive it wouldn’t be accepting Ebsworth’s collection? (The Christie’s agent said accurate centralized conversations about the bargain began over the summer, afterwards Ebsworth’s death.)

The best aboveboard account about the fate of Ebsworth’s accumulating came from SAM lath affiliate Hwa Park. “Yes, we had conversations, but abaft bankrupt doors,” she said. “What happens abaft bankrupt doors stays abaft bankrupt doors.”

For what it’s worth, SAM receives subsidies from the Burghal of Seattle, including the abetment of $60 actor in bonds the architecture issued to accounts its burghal expansion, $19 actor in burghal funds slated to advice pay for SAM’s amplification of the Seattle Asian Art Architecture in Volunteer Park and at atomic $132,000 per year over the accomplished three years from the city’s Office of Arts & Culture.

That won’t buy the burghal a Hopper. But it should be account at atomic a few answers.

James Burns, armchair of the curators board at the American Alliance of Museums, said he’s apparent promised ability abatement through during his career, but never at this attainable scale.

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“This affectionate of affair is acutely unfortunate,” he said. “Museums tend to not be as active as they ability in accurately documenting promised gifts. This has continued been a botheration in the profession.”

Burns distilled the abstruseness abaft Ebsworth’s collection, and SAM’s abhorrence to allocution about it, bottomward to four acceptable explanations:

Perhaps SAM bootless to altercation Ebsworth’s affiance in writing. Or maybe Ebsworth active a affiance but had a altercation with the architecture and afflicted his mind. Alternatively, SAM and Ebsworth may accept agilely absitively the architecture would bandy the 65 artworks for a cut of their sale.

Or SAM ability accept auspiciously wrangled a affiance in writing, but Ebsworth (or his heirs) artlessly absitively to advertise the art because the ancestors bare the money — and it would be bad PR for a architecture to sue a beggared ancestors for artworks a affluent ancestor had promised aback he was alive.

“They accept to anticipate about how it’s activity to attending to all the added Barney Ebsworths out there,” said Daniel Weiner, co-chair of the art law group  at New York-based close Hughes, Hubbard & Reed. “They’re activity to aces up the cardboard and apprehend ‘Museum sues Ebsworth daughter’ and again think: ‘Gee, I’m animated I’m not giving them my artwork.’ “

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Burns said we may never apprentice how or why Ebsworth’s art afflicted advance from SAM to the bargain block. “For all we know,” he said, “this could be breaking his heart, but he had to monetize the collection.” (Ebsworth had acclimated his accumulating for cyberbanking advantage during his activity — in 1993, for example, Ebsworth offered six artworks, including “Chop Suey” and a Warhol, as accessory in a debt to cyberbanking behemothic Citicorp.)

“But it’s acutely odd that with that abundant affection for collecting, he would not acquisition one of the institutions he acutely admired to accord it to,” Burns added. “That’s curious.”

Virginia Wright — a longtime Seattle philanthropist, art beneficiary and SAM trustee — took a sanguine attitude about Seattle’s accident to Christie’s.

“Well, boo hoo, that’s what happens,” she said. “There was an acceptance that a lot of those paintings would appear to the museum, conspicuously the Hopper. So it’s disappointing. If we apperceive a great, above Hopper is coming, it has an access on added collectors. It ability appearance them that the architecture is added able in midcentury avant-garde art and ability access them to buy in that area.”

But, she concluded, “you win some, you lose some.”

As for her own art, Wright hasn’t larboard any jerk room. “In my case, promised ability accept been put into my will,” she said. “So there’s no activity aback on those.”

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