First Two Berkshire Museum Items Attract $1.4 Million

May 14, 2018

The first two pieces up for auction from the Berkshire Museum's art collection fetched more than $1.4 million at auction Monday night in New York.

Henry Moore's 1942 drawing, "Three Seated Woman," was the first work to hit the auction block. Valued at between $400,00 and $600,000, the action was slow with only a few bids being registered. It ended up going for $300,000 after some fees were figured in.

But the next item, Francis Picabia's 1914 watercolor "Force Comique," garnered more attention from prospective buyers in the auction house, on the phone or online. Approximately ten bids were taken before auctioneer Helena Newman banged her gavel. The final price: $1.19 million including fees, right at the high end of its value estimated by Sotheby's, which is handling the Berkshire Museum items.

Over the next two weeks, up to 11 more works from the museum are slated for auction, including Norman Rockwell's "Blacksmith's Boy -- Heel and Toe."

After a lengthy legal battle focused on whether the museum had the right to sell art to raise funds the museum officials said it needed to survive, it reached a deal with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office earlier this year. The museum may sell up to 39 works adding up to $55 million, in order to fund renovations and boost its endowment. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gave its approval to the agreement last month.

The museum previously sold another Rockwell, Shuffleton's Barbershop, in a private sale to a yet-to-open California museum co-founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas. The price was not disclosed, but the painting has an estimated value of $20 million to $30 million. It is scheduled to be loaned to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for up to two years.

The plan by the museum has caused a stir locally and in the art world. Some residents of Berkshire County are upset that the art will leave the county, they say, never to return. And they have questioned whether the museum's financial condition is poor enough to warrant the sale. Others in the art museum industry have criticized Berkshire Museum officials, saying the sale goes against professional standards and could set a dangerous precedent for other museums.