The Massachusetts Attorney General secured a 30-day pause for the sale of artworks from the Berkshire Museum that was scheduled to take place at Sotheby's on Monday, Nov. 13. The museum and lawyers for opponents of the sale will meet again, this time in Boston, at the Massachusetts Appeals Court next month.
The Sotheby's American Art sale has dwindled down to 77 lots, from an 84-lot sale. More from the Berkshire Eagle.
A judge at the Berkshire Superior Court has ruled on dual lawsuits that will allow the Berkshire Museum to sell a number of artworks at auction next week, including a Norman Rockwell expected to fetch $20-$30 million.
The pair of lawsuits, with one group including Rockwell's sons, argued that the art is in the public trust and can not be sold to boost the museum's endowment or cover budget shortfalls.
The contentious legal battle in Pittsfield, Mass., had Judge John Agostini raising many questions about whether the plaintiffs could legally challenge the sale.
“No doubt many will be disappointed in this outcome,” Judge Agostini wrote in his 25-page decision, “and they may take little comfort knowing that, in their loss, the rights of a charitable board to make thoughtful decisions to steer its charity through troubled times have been vindicated.”
A two-hour hearing last Wednesday had left unknown whether the judge would temporarily block the sales.
To help the case to keep the artwork in the museum, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office late last Wednesday filed a motion to become a plaintiff in the suit if the other parties were ruled ineligible.
Two important works by Norman Rockwell, gifts from the artist to the museum in western Massachusetts, and several other American paintings are scheduled to be offered at Sotheby's on Nov. 13. It will be the first of several sales featuring 40 Berkshire Museum deaccessions. Sales are expected to generate $50 million.
Berkshire Museum announced in July that it would sell art from its collections to raise funds for a New Vision, refocusing the museum on science and history.
"We're just a vital part of our community, so we're working hard to continue to be that way, to be sustainable," said Elizabeth McGraw, president of the Berkshire Museum's board on the New Vision plan.
Opposition from the artist's sons, the state attorney general, locals, a group of activists called Save the Art - Save the Museum, and professional organizations culminated in a backlash towards the museum's plans.