Like its namesake, "Phryne," the painted woman who graced the National Press Club for decades, is for sale.

The painting of the Greek courtesan is available to the highest bidder.

The club's Silver Owls, members with 25 years of service, have decided to sell the controversial portrait of the reclining semi-nude, thus ending a controversy that some say started when women were allowed to join the club in 1971.

"A small dedicated group of females got it into their head that [the painting] represented the days before women were members, which is not true," said David Martin, a Silver Owl.

Don Larrabee, club president in 1973, said the club's leadership heard complaints about the painting for years before they decided to take action.

In 1998, the club board voted 9-1 to remove it. Martin was the only board member to vote against taking it down.

"I am sort of bemused at the whole thing," he said. "I think it's really sad that they want to sell her. People weren't really interested in her before, but now that someone says it's worth a lot of money, the greed comes into it. It's all long in the past. It's too bad we can't just re-hang her [in the press club]."

The widow of Mandel de Oliveira Lima, the Brazilian ambassador to the United States, donated the almost life-size painting to the press club in 1945. The artist is the famous Brazilian landscapist Antonio Parreiras.

Phryne was a courtesan who lived in Athens during the 4th century B.C. According to Greek mythology, she was rich enough that she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes but also found herself accused of murder. During her trial, she stripped her clothes in front of the jury, which was so motivated by her beauty that it acquitted her on the spot.

Phryne also is said to have posed for Praxiteles' sculptures of Aphrodite.

Larrabee, now chairman of the Silver Owl fine arts committee, said many members did not want to sell the painting.

"I don't know that much about art, but I think it's better than a lot of nudes I've seen in art galleries," he said. "I'm sorry the powers that be at the press club feel they can't hang it again."

After storing the painting at the Metropolitan Club in Washington for several years, the Silver Owls decided it was time to look for a buyer.

"Phryne" has been entrusted to Alla Rogers, who owns a gallery in Georgetown. She is seeking a reappraisal for the painting, which was valued six years ago at $75,000.

Rogers had been in touch with Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses in New York about the painting but said she is entertaining all reasonable offers above the six-year-old appraisal.

The proceeds will go toward a new archive for the press club.

"We desperately need one," Larrabee said. "We haven't really gotten anything worthy of the name."

The painting of the Greek courtesan for years held pride of place in the National Press Club lounge, shown in 1955.