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Thomas Moran, The Last Arrow, 1867. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Berkshire Museum to Sell Nine More Works from Its Collection

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has announced that it will sell nine more works as part of a controversial deaccessioning plan that has been heavily criticized by museum professionals across the nation.

After a lengthy legal battle that sparked several protests, the institution won the right to sell up to forty works in order to raise $55 million. While the museum claims that the funds are needed to keep it afloat, as well as to fund an expansion, those who oppose the plan argue that allowing the institution to deaccession works from its collection for any other purpose besides acquiring new pieces sets a dangerous precedent for the industry.

So far, the museum has made $47 million from sales in April and May. Thirteen works were sold in total—eleven found buyers at auctions held at Sotheby’s, and two were sold privately, including the iconic Norman Rockwell painting Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950, which the artist donated to the museum. On May 25, the Association of Art Museum Directors, which had previously denounced the Berkshire’s decision to sell its art, announced that it is imposing sanctions against the institution and is advising its 243 members to refrain from collaborating with and lending and borrowing works from the museum.

The Berkshire needs to net a further $8 million in order to reach its goal. According to Larry Parnass of the Berkshire Eagle, the institution is trying to ensure that the majority of the works remain accessible to the public. As a result, seven pieces will be sold in private transactions, and two works are earmarked for a September auction at Sotheby’s in New York.

Carol Bosco Baumann, a spokeswoman for the museum, said that for the next round of sales, the institution identified which works they would part with by evaluating their estimated monetary value, the likelihood that they would remain in the public domain, and how much interpretive value they added to its collection. The works being sold include a mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder; oil paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, George Henry Durrie, Thomas Moran, Charles Wilson Peale, and Benjamin West; and two pieces from the Qing Dynasty, a ten-panel coromandel screen and a vase.

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