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Norman Rockwell’s Family Tries to Stop Berkshire Museum’s Sale of Artist’s Works

The financially struggling Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which announced in July that it planned to auction off some of its permanent collection through Sotheby’s in order to help finance a $20 million renovation and a $40 million endowment, is now facing backlash from members of Norman Rockwell’s family, according to Andrew Russeth of Artnews. Two of the museum’s Rockwell paintings, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1940, and Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950, are headed for the auctioneer’s block. The artist donated the works to the museum himself, with the expectation that they stay with the Berkshire permanently. The Rockwells met with representatives from the office of the Massachusetts attorney general in Boston to see if there is a way to halt the sale. A spokesperson for the attorney general said, “Our office is reviewing the proposed transaction to see how it comports with applicable charities law.” In addition to the Rockwell pieces, the Berkshire Museum is also planning to sell works by Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, and Alexander Calder. Sotheby’s has already sent a number of the museum’s artworks on an international tour to whet the appetites of buyers.

Since the Berkshire Museum’s announcement, it has faced criticism from the American Alliance of Museums and the Norman Rockwell Museum. The Berkshire also severed its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution as a gesture of “respect for the good relationship we have with the Smithsonian . . . because we knew the decision to deaccession art to fund an endowment would not be in compliance with the American Alliance of Museums’ guidelines for the use of proceeds,” said Van Shields, the Berkshire’s executive director.

“It’s possible that these paintings could go into a Swiss vault or a Russian oligarch’s dining room. You may never get to see them again,” said Margaret Rockwell, a representative for the family who is married to Geoffrey Rockwell, one of the artist’s grandchildren. “What is happening is that the Berkshire Museum is breaking Norman Rockwell’s trust, and the public trust at the same time, and hurting the reputation of the people of the Berkshires, and it’s a bad precedent for museums all over.”