On Monday night, opponents of the Berkshire Museum’s ongoing sell-off of works from its collection gathered at Sotheby’s in New York for a protest before the first two pieces earmarked for auction—a Henry Moore drawing and a Picabia watercolor—hit the block at an evening sale at the house.
But the first sale actually came earlier this year, when a deal was struck for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles to acquire, for an undisclosed sum, the museum’s masterwork, Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) by Norman Rockwell, in a private transaction that was approved by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
As part of that deal, the Lucas Museum agreed that it would loan the work to the Norman Rockwell Museum—which is located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, about 15 miles from Pittsfield, the home of the Berkshire Museum—for an extended period. Today the Rockwell Museum announced that it will begin showing the work on June 9 as part of an exhibition called “Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Narrative Tradition,” which runs through October 28. After that show comes down, the piece will remain on view and be included in other shows.
The loan to the Rockwell Museum runs until 2020, at which point, the Lucas Museum has said, it will potentially loan the piece to other institutions in Massachusetts and further afield before it heads to L.A., where the Lucas Museum is scheduled to open in 2022.
“This masterpiece has long been an inspiration to the people of Massachusetts, and we are delighted to be working with the Rockwell Museum to allow its continued public accessibility,” Don Bacigalupi, the founding president of the Lucas Museum, said in a statement. “We also look forward to displaying this extraordinary work at the Lucas Museum in years to come.”
The Berkshire Musuem’s plan to sell works to raise upwards of $55 million to start an endowment and to close a budget deficit has been hammered by museum groups who say it could dissuade future donors and encourage other financially strapped institutions to take similar measures, which break with industry guidelines. The museum’s leadership has said that, without selling works, it will eventually be forced to close.
Additional works from the Berkshire Museum are scheduled to be sold at Sotheby’s in the coming days, with another major Rockwell, Blacksmith’s Boy (1940), going under the hammer in the house’s American art sale on May 23 with an estimate of $7 million to $10 million.