Pittsfield museum to auction off American masterpieces

Last week, we learned the National Gallery of Canada plans to sell a Marc Chagall painting from its collection to fund another acquisition. Now it seems another museum is clearing house in a bid to raise US$55 million (£39.2 million) to enable it to undertake major renovation works.

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is headed to Sotheby’s New York in May to sell a collection of its works with a combined estimated sale price of between US$20.2-$28.9 million (£14.4-20.6 million). Among the pieces going under the hammer are works by Francis Picabia (estimate of US$1.2 million or £900,000), Alexander Calder (US$3 million or £2.1 million), Frederic Edwin Church (US$7 million or £5 million) and Norman Rockwell (US$10 million or £7.1 million).

Just like its Canadian counterpart, the Museum’s plans to sell up to 40 of its works have attracted the attention of lawyers. In November 2017, its Rockwell masterpiece, ‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’ was due to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s (estimate of US$20-30 million or £14.2-21.4 million). The Museum’s plans were thwarted when the Massachusetts’ attorney general’s office launched a legal challenge of the sale, which was also opposed by Rockwell’s sons.

The state’s Appeals Court halted the auction while the Museum’s plans were investigated. On 5 April, Judge David Lowry approved a deal whereby the Berkshire Museum could proceed with the sales on two conditions:

‘Shuffleton’s Barbershop’ was to be sold to a nonprofit American museum;
The Museum must stop deaccessioning works from its collection when it hits its US$55 million fundraising target.

The Rockwell was later sold privately to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles for an undisclosed sum and the May sales in New York are set to continue.

According to Sotheby’s, the sales will enable the Berkshire Museum to realise its vision of ‘an exciting interdisciplinary museum, with a heightened emphasis on science and history as well as the arts’.

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