Should Councils Be Allowed To Sell Off Valuable Artworks?

Bolton’s Cut Price Pre-Raphaelite Masterpiece undersold for £74,000

Cash-strapped local authorities are selling bits of their art collections to raise funds. Two important Picasso etchings are among almost 35 works of art auctioned or to be auctioned by Bolton council. A painting by the Victorian Pre Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais, that may have inspired the novel The Woman in White, has already been de-accessed by the Council for £74,400. The painting, titled The Somnambulist was estimated at £80,000-100,000, A bargain basement price for such an important work, by a highly regarded British Painter. It is one of  several artworks earmarked to to pay for a new museum storage warehouse. Bolton Council has chosen the works to be sold but is it ever the right choice? A senior member of the council warned, there is no money in the main council budget for the building of the secure storage area, as it has been cut by 60%. Two valuable etchings by 20th century master Pablo Picasso, titled ‘Peintre et modele’ and ‘Le Picador’ are part of the sell off, which the council hopes to raise £500,000. Peintre et modele was etched by Picasso in 1933 and bought by the council in 1963 . The other print, Le Picador also bought the same year, is an important example of Picasso’s surrealist period. Other works under the hammer include Walter Sickert’s, Pauline de Talleyrand-Perigord and A Study of Danae and the Brazen Tower, by Edward Burne-Jones. Bolton Museum and Art Gallery removed the works from display in March saying, ” they were not part of its ‘core art collection”.The selling off of council-owned art hit the headlines in 2006 when Bury council sold LS Lowry’s ‘A Riverbank’ for £1.4m, to plug a budget deficit. Culture bosses in Bolton have stressed that the proceeds would not be used to balance the council’s books in the wake of recently agreed cuts of £41m over the next year. The local Civic Trust hit out at the action, saying other assets should be sold first. Council’s Galleries are only allowed to sell paintings in exceptional circumstances and the money must go towards improving the remaining collection, under Museums Association rules. The Millet picture was exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1871 and as part of Manchester’s Royal Jubilee exhibition in 1887. Bolton Council had to withdraw another painting by Bolton artist Alfred Heaton Cooper from its list of 36 artworks earmarked for disposal on the advice of the Museums Association (MA) Ethics Committee who stated the much loved work was important to the area. Last week’s Bolton fire-sale achieved other below par prices. Two works by John Varley, Mountain Lake Scene and Mountainous Landscape, sold for £2,160 and £3,360 respectively, while Walter Richard Sickert’s portrait of Pauline de Talleyrand- Perigord, Marquise de Castellane, fetched £4,560. Charles Ginner’s English Landscape, George Arthur Fripp’s Caerphilly Castle and a painting of Hatfield Heath by American artist William Mark Fisher were sold for £2,160 each, and an Ambrose McEvoy portrait of Madame Errasuriz sold for the largest amount, £6,600. Fallow Deer, by Robert Hills, went for £1,920, while Near Chudleigh, by John White Abbott, was sold for £2,280. The works that failed to sell were Edward Matthew Hale’s Woman Stealers, which was expected to fetch between £3,000 and £5,000, Philip Wilson Steer’s Falls at Aysgarth, which had £3,000, and Waiting For The Tide, by James Wallace, which had been expected to attract between £1,500 and £2,000. Land of Romance by George Faulkner Wetherbee, which had a guide price of £2,000 to £3,000, also failed to sell.But a watercolour by Architect/designer Augustus Charles Pugin, The Yellow Drawing Room, which had a guide price of £600 to £800, sold for £4,560.The Picasso prints are coming up in a sale later this year and we sincerely hope they will sell for a record price.


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