Judge Rules for Berkshire Museum Sales of Norman Rockwell, Other Artworks

THOMAS WILMER DEWING, The White Dress.  Oil on canvas.
THOMAS WILMER DEWING, The White Dress. Oil on canvas.
(Berkshire Museum)
  • JOHN LAFARGE, Magnolia, 1863, Oil on panel.

    JOHN LAFARGE, Magnolia, 1863, Oil on panel.

    Berkshire Museum

A Massachusetts judge on Thursday gave the final approval for Berkshire Museum's controversial plan to sell artworks from its collections, including a significant Norman Rockwell painting that the artist gifted to the Pittsfield, Mass., institution. 

The decision comes after a seven month investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general which ended with a plan for the cash-strapped museum to go forward with the sales despite opposition from museum organizations, locals, art lovers, and Rockwell's family.

Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" will be sold to an undisclosed museum, while 39 other artworks will be offered through Sotheby's, until $55 million is reached. (The Rockwell sale stipulates that the work will remain on public view.)

The plan allows for up to $50 million in funds raised to be used without restrictions, while funds after $50 million and up to $55 million will be used for acquisitions and collections.

Opponents note that the decision could have far-reaching implications, from eroding the public trust in museums, to impacting donor gifts by green-lighting deaccessioning as a fundraising method for art institutions.

The group Save the Art - Save the Museum, which opposed the sales, posted: "We...regret the judge's disregard of the public trust in which the museum held its collections. The impending sale will not only diminish Pittsfield as a city claiming to be of cultural import to Berkshire County, but will reverberate destructively for years through collections similarly held in trust thoughout the state and country."

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