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An Educated Guess: What Did the Lucas Museum Pay for Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop”?

In the two weeks since the announcement of the Berkshire Museum’s widely deplored sale of Norman Rockwell‘s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, none of the parties to the transaction have revealed the price paid for the privilege of spiriting away this Massachusetts masterpiece:

Norman Rockwell, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” 1950
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

But by analyzing what we do know, it’s not hard to come up with a ballpark figure.

In announcing the planned disposals next month of 13 of the 39 works that Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has permitted it to sell at auction, the Berkshire Museum expressed the hope those sales, plus the “Barbershop” shave, would “generate the $55 million the museum needs.”

So let’s do the math: The total of the low-to-high presale estimates for the soon-to-be-auctioned works, as listed in Sotheby’s recently issued checklist of the Berkshire 13, is $20.17 million to $28.9 million. To achieve the museum’s goal of $55 million, “Shuffleton’s” would have to have garnered about $26.1 million to $34.83 million. (Sotheby’s had estimated that the painting would have brought $20 million to $30 million at auction.)

That said, all bets are off if the La Salle Effect extends to the Berkshire Museum’s upcoming auction adventure (or misadventure). As I wrote here: “Six of 16 old masters deaccessioned by the La Salle University Art Museum were left stranded on the auction block at Christie’s….Of the 10 that did sell, only four equaled or exceeded their presale estimates.”

Like the Berkshire Museum’s sales, the La Salle sales flouted professional standards requiring that museums’ proceeds from art sales be used only for art acquisitions (as decreed by the Association of Art Museum Directors) and/or for direct care of collections (American Alliance of Museums). And as I wrote here: “Museum provenance, often a plus [in boosting auction prices], could be a detriment,” when the intended use of the proceeds is to fund capital projects and beef up endowment.

If its first 13 lots don’t achieve the desired results at Sotheby’s, the Berkshire Museum will likely hemorrhage more art. The museum’s agreement with the Attorney General allows up to 39 works to be sold in three installments, in order to reach the $55-million goal.

That agreement also requires the in-construction Lucas Museum (founded by “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas) to teleport “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” to the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA, for 18-24 months. Asked by me when this will happen, the Rockwell Museum’s spokesperson today told me this:

We are firming up details. We should know within the week.

Construction of the Lucas Museum expected to be completed in late 2021.

For the many principled objectors to these sales (including the lucrative Lucas transfer), here’s my parting benediction:

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