Berkshire Museum on hold, but James Prendergast Library a go

On November 21, 2017, Sotheby’s (New York) will be holding a European sale and Christie’s (New York) will be holding an American sale. Both auctions feature works by artists with ties to Gloucester and neighboring shores, among them:

Christies Martin Johnson Heade 1819 to 1904 Haystacks oc 1878-1892 est 120 to 180000
Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) Haystacks, 1878-1892, oil on canvas, (Christie’s presale estimate $120,000-$180,000)
Paul Howard manship 1885-1966 Lying Doe cas 1932 est 300 to 500000
PAUL MANSHIP (1885-1966), Lying Doe, ca. 1932 (Christie’s presale auction estimate $300,000-$500,000)

There are a few Norman Rockwell works, including the classic What Makes it Tick (The Watchman), a 1948 commission for the watchmakers of Switzerland, oil on canvas. Christie’s presale estimate is 4 million – 6 million. Christie’s is offering a Cecilia Beaux 1916 portrait in its American online auction, ending tomorrow as well. It’s titled Mrs. Albert J Beveridge (Catherine Eddy/Lady Primrose) and measures 57 x 38. Bids open at $12,000 on this Beaux.



Sotheby’s Nov 21 Auction a tale of two AGOs

The Berkshire Museum story has several updates. As a reminder, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled last week that the Berkshire Museum could not sell its artworks on consignment with Sotheby’s until the courts settle. The Berkshire Museum is pushing for an accelerated court case. They have issued a press release which I’ve posted below the break. One trustee has quit in protest of the Museum’s intent to sell. The Massachusetts Attorney General office filed responses. It’s been reported that the AG is repeating unanswered requests for archives, financial papers and other material as well as questions related to museum contruction projects completed by another board member (speculating unconfirmed reports of conflict of interest.) Official filings and documents from both sides have been shared with media outlets. The injunction decision impacted Sotheby’s American and Impressionism & Modern art sales last week, and its European sale tomorrow only in that there are fewer lots for sale. The cover of tomorrow’s European sale catalogue featured a Berkshire Museum painting, Lot 18 now unavailable.

x LOT 18 Berkshire Museum Bouguereau featured on the cover of the Sotheby's catalogue 70 lots Nov 21 sale L'Agneau Nouveau-Ne THE NEWBORN LAMB oc 65 x 34 est 1500000 to 2mil.jpg
Sotheby’s lists Lot 18 as “upcoming” sale. Bouguereau L’Agneau Nouveau (The Newborn Lamb) oil on canvas, 65 in x 34 in (Sotheby’s presale estimate 1.5million to 2 million)


Additional Sotheby’s Berkshire Museum lots described as “upcoming”, on hold till the courts decide:


Sotheby’s European sale features fine art consigned from another public repository: the James Prendergast Library, Jamestown, NY. Unlike the Berkshire Museum, the library attempted to maintain its collection, but was unsuccessful. It did not receive as much press as the Berkshire Museum brouhaha. The New York Times ran a story this weekend, too little too late for any with aims to hold on. According to the article, the library had even lined up angel collectors willing to buy the great works to ensure they remained in Jamestown, NY.

Some critics of the sale are particularly upset that the library rejected a plan by two art patrons, Cathy and Jesse Marion of Houston who had proposed keeping the collection in Jamestown by buying about 40 of the works for $1.2 million and finding a new home for them in the city.” 

The New York State Attorney General’s office declined this proposal, instead requiring that the library sell at public auction.

“Mr. Rankin said the library had to pass on that offer because the New York State attorney general’s office, which oversees nonprofit organizations, had objected to a private sale without testing whether the paintings might actually bring in more if sold through public auction.”

The library founders made careful selections amounting to an encyclopedic world tour of artists and contemplative, dreamy scenes to enrich the experience of patrons of all ages. They are fascinating together. I love this beguiling and chatty magpie narrative!

James Prendergast Library Jehan Georges Vibert Le Nouveau commis oil on panel est 30 to 40000
James Prendergast Library collection: Jehan Georges Vibert Le Nouveau commis oil on panel. Sotheby’s Eurpean pre sale estimate is $30,000- $40,000


More works to be sold at Sotheby’s to benefit and from the James Prendergast Library collection


Berkshire Museum Answers Legal Action on Planned Sale

 (For immediate release)

The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum developed a plan to secure the museum’s future, consistent with the founding principles of the institution, and met its fiduciary duty in doing so, lawyers for the Board assert in a legal brief filed today. The brief also demonstrates that there are no restrictions on the sale of artwork that is critical to the museum’s funding plan and explains why the sale should go forward.
“As dedicated trustees and members of the Pittsfield community, we undertook our fiduciary duty with diligence, transparency and great seriousness of purpose to ensure that the Berkshire Museum would thrive despite the challenging times that threaten the museum’s financial future,” said Elizabeth McGraw, President of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. “Every aspect of our plan will result in the Berkshire Museum’s continued growth in its 100+ year -old unchanged mission As a magnet for adults, children, art lovers, history and science enthusiasts.”

Today’s court filing presents detailed and specific facts proving as deeply flawed the arguments of those attempting to block the sale. The brief demonstrates that:
The Museum’s Board of Trustees unequivocally fulfilled its fiduciary duty in undertaking an exhaustive, diligent and inclusive process to address urgent and serious financial challenges threatening the future of the museum by developing a new vision for the Museum and funding to support that plan. The Board acted in good faith and in the best interest of both the institution and the community it supports.The new vision is entirely consistent with the founding principles set out for the Museum by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1932 – “to establish an institution to aid in promoting for the people of Berkshire County and the general public the study of art, natural science, the culture history of mankind and kindred subjects.”

  • There are no restrictions on the works offered for sale. Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s

Barbershop is not and was never subject to any restriction prohibiting its sale.

“We are confident that the court will affirm the Museum’s position and look forward to
successful auctions that will ensure that the Berkshire Museum can contribute to the
educational, economic, and cultural life of the region for long into the future,” said McGraw.

Wilmer Hale, representing the Museum, also filed affidavits from experts on these 

issues, museum staff, and the Board of Trustees, in support or the arguments in the
main brief.

“The documents filed today and the legal arguments within them demonstrate that the

Board of Trustees acted responsibly and any claims to stop the museum’s plans are without merit,” said William Lee of Wilmer Hale, the law firm representing the museum.

CENTURY-PLUS: The Berkshire Museum has been an important part of Pittsfield and Western Massachusetts for more than 100 years. Its mission in that community is  –  and remains  –  to “bring people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring educational connections among art, history, and natural science.”
FINANCIAL PRESSURES : Both the region and the Museum have been experiencing very real financial challenges. For the past decade, the Museum has operated on an average deficit of more than $1 million each year; its operating deficit since 2007exceeds $11.8 million and it recording an operating loss of more than $1.4 million in FY2016. Its endowment has declined in each of the last three years. The Museum engaged in myriad efforts over a number of years to restore profitability. Despite those efforts, the Museum continued to operate at a loss.

*According to the legal brief: “In 2015, the Museum’s Board of Trustees confronted an annual operating deficit of more than $1 million, an ever-shrinking endowment, and a diminished donor base because of tough economic times. The conclusion was clear: if the Museum continued on its trajectory, it would be forced to close within a few years.”

  • MEETING THE CHALLENGE: In response to these challenges threatening the museum’s sustainability, the Museum undertook an extensive and exhaustive nearly two-year process of stakeholder engagement, internal planning, Board review and decision-making, to identify potential paths toward a sustainable future to allow the institution to continue to contribute to the educational, economic, and cultural needs of the community long into the future.
  •  A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE: As a result of this extensive outreach and study, the Museum developed its New Vision’ plan to create an innovative 21st century institution, that will meet the community’s evolving educational, economic, and cultural needs. The deaccession will help fund a physical renovation, as well as the creation of a new endowment essential to future financial stability.

 *According to the legal brief:“…[T]he Museum’s community wanted not simply another display of fine art, but an institution that would engage them with a greater emphasis on science and history. The process ultimately yielded the New Vision: a renovation of the Museum’s 114-year old building and transformation of static galleries into teaching laboratories and accessible, interactive community spaces. In the newly refurbished space, more artwork, as well as more objects and specimens from the collection, would be on view than ever before.”

  • DEACCESSIONING: The deaccession of 40 of the museum’s 40,000+ items in its collection will help fund a physical renovation, as well as the creation of a new endowment essential to future financial stability. Sales of the deaccessioned works begin at Sotheby’s New York on November 13, 2017 with the auction of American Art, including Norman Rockwell’s  Shuffleton’s Barbershop and Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop).

*According to the legal brief: “None of the 40 deaccessioned works contains any restriction on the Museum’s ownership or disposition.”

15 thoughts on “Berkshire Museum on hold, but James Prendergast Library a go

  1. I just did a story called Beaver brook Bigger Better. our museum here in Fredericton just got an face lift and extension. I am so proud of your museum . Hope things turn around for the Berkshire and he library. Thanks for info

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In the first painting the haystack on the marsh is called a ” straddle”… Most of the paintings I have seen of straddles were of the great Ipswich marsh….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, and true for Heade! Famous Great Marsh ones… Newbury, Newburyport. Maybe it will make it’s way back to the North shore


  3. Hi Dave! Thanks for sharing the link. I saw the Cowen article stateside. Markets are his cup of tea, but in my opinion he is weak on points related to the art market. Keeping the Rockwells is BIGGER business.

    Lemonade from lemons– the Berkshire Museum deaccession bustle has increased recognition of some of its best works. Remember the game Masterpiece? Familiarity and reputation soar together–both for art and institutions. Though “greatness” is not a prerequisite, consensus builds around key pieces of high quality. (Cowen listed Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a book of influence in his youth…)


    1. Most welcome! I like what they are doing your way with the Virginia Lee Burton House project 20X11 foot building City of Gloucester Community Preservation Committee Project Application Cover sheet Application 8 pages PDF (2018 start)! Sort of like George Morey’s shack restoral Lanes Cove. Spent many season here about three minutes to five minute walk from house on Washington street down Duly street weather permitting or had to go up to Andrews corner go down that way less of incline! 🙂 I walked by this many a time as a youth we a group of us would walk up to Foley Cove Halibut point. Feel the presence there of those who lived it and what waves washed in! 🙂 Dave Thanks for the response, and oh so true! 🙂

      “QUAERE VERUM” – (Seek the Truth)! “

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me, too. And the sweet CAM display from Japan– Virginia Lee Burton is tops! Cheers to Your beautiful walks then and maybe a nice one tomorrow for 🩃 for you both 🙂


  4. Thank you and Keep up the excellent history lessons also I did real good here in school and but not so good in math 🙂

    Mother nature had a change of mind our way and brought us snow for the past two days off and on but not sticking but we goes below the freezing point be like days pond frozen over slippery! May impact my walk today? 🙂 Dave & Kim


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