Berkshire Museum betrays public trust by sale of art collection

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By Thursday, Jul 27 Letters  7 Comments

To the editor:

Representing the cream of the Berkshire Museum’s collection, the 40 works now on their way to auction at Sotheby’s were not theirs to sell and the institution should be sued for their return. The artworks were in a public trust. By assuming nonprofit status and being associated with the Smithsonian and the American Alliance of Museums(AAM) with specific ethical guidelines that prohibit sales for any reason other than to improve the collection, donors, members, and the public had every right to expect their history was in safe hands.

berkshire_museumIn fact, the AAM and the American Association of Museum Directors wrote, in a joint statement of protest, “One of the most fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.”

Those works, several of them purchased by the museum’s founder and others donated by the artists themselves, are not just of aesthetic value, but significant artifacts of Berkshire history that can never be replaced — their existence being the very reason the museum was founded. It is not for the current administration to monetize the museum’s greatest assets in order to pay debts they have accrued and fund their own idea of what the museum should be.

One commenter likened it to Hancock Shaker Village selling off its buildings to create a zoo because “everyone likes goats.” Funny, but sadly apt. We must take every measure to insure that the works are returned to the people of Pittsfield and the museum administration is restructured toward a more responsible outcome. A museum that would sell its past cannot be trusted with creating its future.

Carol Diehl

Housatonic


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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Lawrence Davis-Hollander says:

    Maybe we should sell the works at the National Gallery and use the proceeds to pay for the wall while they are at it?
    Selling the Berkshire Museum’s best paintings is gross stupidity of the highest order.

  2. Joseph Method says:

    Van Shields implied that the 40 paintings were less important works. I think he said something like non-essential. Is that not true? Should some leeway be granted given that Berkshire Museum is not primarily an art museum? I don’t know the answers to these questions btw.

    1. Carol Diehl says:

      Unfortunately these are some of the MOST important works in the museum — if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be worth $50M! What makes the Berkshire Museum unique is that it’s NOT primarily an art museum, but one devoted to both science and art–as is inscribed over the door. The founder intended it to be a mini-amalgamation of the Met, the Smithsonian, and the Natural History Museum, and donated the priceless Hudson River School paintings (in the proposed sale) to begin the collection. For background, I am an artist and art critic who has been very involved with the museum.

  3. Pamela Smith says:

    Excellent article Carol! Curious what the Metropolitan Museum and other art museums do–not that the Berkshire Museum is as well endowed–but maybe there is an example to learn from there. I wish I could see what 40 paintings they are selling off. If they are Hudson River School Paintings or their beautiful earlier European paintings…plus others, that would deplete our area’s cultural and historical riches for example. If they are truly not worth their keep maybe it is not a bad thing. The question is who makes that decision and why? If they are selling the paintings so they can have more children’s shows i.e. frogs and other such block buster displays, that would be terribly offensive and what kind of art historians would do that? Do they still have an art historian or art curator at the museum?

    1. Carol Diehl says:

      List of works to be sold:
      List of works to be sold.

      1. ALBERT BIERSTADT

      Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire,
      1868,
      Oil on canvas

      2. ALBERT BIERSTADT

      Giant Redwood Trees of California
      Circa 1874,
      Oil on canvas

      3. RALPH ALBERT BLAKELOCK

      Rocky Mountains
      Oil on canvas

      4. WILLIAM -ADOLPHE BOUGUEREAU

      L’Agneau nouveau né (The Newborn Lamb)
      1873,
      Oil on canvas

      5. WILLIAM -ADOLPHE BOUGUEREAU

      La bourrique (The Pony-back Ride)
      1884,
      Oil on canvas

      6. ALEXANDER CALDER

      Dancing Torpedo Shape
      1932,
      Wood, wire and aluminum

      7. ALEXANDER CALDER

      Double Arc and Sphere
      1932,
      Painted wood, wire and sheet metal

      8. FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH

      Valley of the Santa Ysabel
      1875,
      Oil on canvas

      10. CHARLES FRANÇOIS DAUBIGNY

      Paysans allant aux champs le matin
      Oil on canvas

      10. THOMAS WILMER DEWING

      The White Dress
      Oil on canvas

      11. RAOUL DUFY

      La Fête
      Circa 1935,
      Watercolor on paper

      12. GEORGE HENRY DURRIE

      Hunter in Winter Wood
      1860,
      Oil on canvas

      13. PIETER DE HOOCH

      The Music Party
      Oil on canvas

      14. GEORGE INNESS

      Mountain Landscape – The Painter at Work (Leeds in the Catskills, with the Artist Sketching)
      Circa 1867- 1869,
      Oil on canvas

      15. ADRIAEN ISENBRANT

      The Temptation
      Oil on panel

      16. ADRIAEN ISENBRANT AND CIRCLE OF JOACHIM PATINIR

      Flight into Egypt
      Oil on panel

      17. DANIEL RIDGWAY KNIGHT

      Girl with Dog
      1866,
      Oil on canvas

      18. JOHN LAFARGE

      Magnolia
      1863,
      Oil on panel

      19. HENRY MOORE

      Three Seated Figures
      1942,
      Pastel, ink and pen on paper

      20. THOMAS MORAN

      The Last Arrow
      1867,
      Oil on canvas

      21. ALBERTO PASINI

      Market Day in Constantinople
      1877,
      Oil on canvas

      22. CHARLES WILLSON PEALE

      Portrait of General David Forman
      Circa 1784,
      Oil on canvas

      23. REMBRANDT PEALE

      George Washington
      Oil on canvas

      24. FRANCIS PICABIA

      Force Comique
      Watercolor on paper

      25. SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS

      Portrait of Mr. W. Cave
      Oil on canvas

      26. NORMAN ROCKWELL

      Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop)
      1940,
      Oil on canvas

      27. NORMAN ROCKWELL

      Shuffleton’s Barbershop
      1950,
      Oil on canvas

      28. AUGUSTUS SAINT -GAUDENS

      Diana of the Tower
      1899,
      Bronze

      29. FRANKLIN SIMMONS

      Penelope 1884, Marble

      30. GIULIO TADOLINI

      Judith
      1881,
      Marble

      31. GIROLAMO TROPPA

      Apollo Flaying Marsyas
      Oil on canvas

      32. JAN VICTORS

      Benjamin and His Brethren
      Oil on canvas

      33. EDOUARD VUILLARD

      Deux femmes dans un interieur
      Watercolor on paper

      34. EDWIN LORD WEEKS

      Indian Prince, Palace of Agra
      Oil on canvas

      35. BENJAMIN WEST

      Daniel Interpreting to Belshazzar the Handwriting on the Wall
      Oil on canvas

      36. A FOLDING ‘TALE OF GENJI’ SCREEN
      Japan, 16th Century

      37. A TEN -PANEL COROMANDEL LACQUER ‘DAOIST IMMORTALS’ SCREEN

      Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period, dated by inscription
      1689

      38. AN ARCHAIC BRONZE RITUAL FOOD VESSEL, GUI
      Early Western Zhou Period

      39. A LARGE BLUE AND WHITE ‘DRAGON’ VASE

      Qing Dynasty, Early 19th Century, Jiaqing -Daoguang Period

      40. A LARGE BRONZE FIGURE OF GUANYIN
      China or Japan,
      19th Century

  4. David says:

    Succinct and a propos, Carole. Brava!

    1. C. D'Alessandro says:

      Agreed!

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