Norman Rockwell's three sons are among the plaintiffs who have filed a court complaint seeking to halt the Berkshire Museum's plan to sell 40 works of art, including two by their famous father.
The complaint filed Friday seeking a temporary restraining order alleges the Pittsfield museum contracted with Sotheby's for a public auction of the works before it announced its plans publicly. The complaints say it acted in breach of its fiduciary duties and trust, and without legal authority to sell the art.
Attorney Jim Lamme says he and his fellow plaintiffs are outraged by the museum's decision to auction off the paintings next month.
"This action of selling the crown jewels of the collection was taken rather precipitously and I, we, think unlawfully and unethically," he told WBUR.
The museum says the sale is necessary to maintain its long-term financial viability as it refocuses its mission on science and history. Proceeds will be used for an endowment and renovations. A Berkshire spokeswoman said the museum believes it has "strong legal grounds" for the sale.
"We've spent quite a few years studying this and looking at this and I think we've come up with what we think is the best plan possible moving forward," the museum's Board of Trustees President Elizabeth McGraw said.
Last month, the Massachusetts Cultural Council joined the outcry against the Berkshire Museum's plan. The state agency conducted a financial review, which found the museum could survive without the money from a sale.
"I don't think it's any more fragile than a lot of our nonprofit and cultural organizations that are struggling with the same challenges the Berkshire Museum is facing," MCC executive director Anita Walker said in September.
A hearing on the lawsuit will be held less than two weeks before the planned auction on Nov. 13.
With reporting by the WBUR Newscast Unit and the Associated Press