Attorney General Maura Healey's office has asked Berkshire Superior Court to stop the sale of 40 pieces of art from the Berkshire Museum until an investigation into the legality of the sale can be completed. Photo courtesy Berkshire Museum

Attorney General Healey sides with opponents of Berkshire Museum art sale

Pittsfield — State Attorney General Maura Healey has jumped into the fray to challenge the directors of the Berkshire Museum in their effort to sell 40 works of art including two valuable Norman Rockwell pieces, ostensibly to strengthen the museum’s finances.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

In support of a legal action from Rockwell relatives and others for a temporary restraining order to block the sale, Healey embraced the request in a 27-page response filed in Berkshire Superior Court yesterday (Oct. 30). Click here to view Healey’s response.

A hearing on the preliminary injunction will be held tomorrow (Nov. 1) at 11 a.m. in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield, said Madelaine Miller Strauss, a spokesperson for Sullivan & Worcester, the law firm representing plaintiffs in a second suit filed by nearby residents and members of the Berkshire Museum.

Healey’s action is unusual in that she was one of the defendants named in the original suit along with the museum’s board of trustees. Healey has asked the court to stop the sale of the artwork until legal questions can be sorted out and until her office has completed its own investigation.

If the court fails to grant the injunction, the sale will likely commence as planned Monday, Nov. 13, at an auction at Sotheby’s in New York. For their part, museum officials say they need the money in order for the museum to survive and to fund about $40 million in renovations.

Museum officials insist the organization isn’t currently sustainable and that it’s carried a deficit of about $1 million over the last decade. Furthermore, corporate giving has declined. Major corporate benefactors such as General Electric, a longtime supporter of the museum, have left Pittsfield since the museum was established in 1903. The museum hopes to raise about $50 million through the auction.

The proposed sale has provoked strong feelings in the community. To get a sense of those sentiments, see several letters to the editor to the Edge: