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Berkshire Blurbs: Lucas Museum Buys “Shuffleton’s”; Sotheby’s Lowers Some Estimates

No surprise here: The planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, which broke ground last month, today announced its acquisition of Norman Rockwell‘s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” from the Berkshire Museum (price undisclosed). This means that Don Bacigalupi, president of the deep-pocketed museum, now has the dubious distinction of being the enabler of not one but two transactions bankrolled by megabucks patrons (here’s the other one) that have been deplored by museums’ professional organizations.

Here’s Don at the Lucas, which is bankrolled by filmmaker George Lucas (to the tune of $1 billion, according to the museum’s website)…

…and here he is at Crystal Bridges, which is bankrolled by Walmart heiress Alice Walton:

Don Bacigalupi taking reporters on a hardhat tour of the in-construction Crystal Bridges Museum, May 2011
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Today’s Lucas announcement notes only that the coveted Rockwell “has been the subject of considerable attention [more accurately, “controversy”] in recent months.Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA, who had so forcefully argued against the Berkshire Museum’s Rockwell sale in a Berkshire Eagle op-ed piece after the deaccessions were announced, has now become a Lucas cheerleader, as quoted in the museum’s announcement:

We thank the museum for generously loaning the painting to the Norman Rockwell Museum while the Lucas Museum is under construction in Los Angeles. It is especially meaningful for the people of Berkshire County who will have the opportunity to enjoy this masterpiece for a few more years [emphasis added], knowing that it will remain in the public realm.

“A few more years” may be wishful thinking. Under the terms of the sale agreement, Moffatt’s museum gets to display this prize for a period of 18-24 months, while its permanent home is being built. And it would be a lot more “meaningful for the people of Berkshire County” if Rockwell’s beloved work remained there:

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

At the end of my previous post about the 13 Berkshire works to be offered next month at Sotheby’s, I suggested that they might not be an easy sell.

It now appears that the auction house’s experts partly agree: Reductions in the published presale estimates for three of 13 castoffs suggest that some of the original estimates, on the list issued last September for all 40 deaccessioned works, are now thought to have been overly optimistic. One reason could be that the market for those works has softened during the seven contentious, litigation-driven months that have ensued.

Here, from comparisons of the original checklist to the updated checklist that the Sotheby’s press office sent me today (at my request), are the downgraded estimates for works to be offered in May:

William Bouguereau, “The Two Sisters,” 1884: $2-3 million now; $2.5-3.5 million in September

William Bouguereau, “The Newborn Lamb,” 1873, $1.5-2 million now; $2-2.5 million in September

Adriaen Isenbrant, “The Temptation of Adam and Eve, $150,000-200,000 now; $200,000-300,000 in September

What’s more, the value of Calder‘s “Double Arc and Sphere,” ca. 1932, for which no estimate had been published by Sotheby’s when its September checklist was released, also seems to have been reassessed: It is now estimated at $2-3 million, compared with the estimate of $3-4 million that was published online today by the Berkshire Eagle in a slideshow of the 13 castoffs. The Eagle’s other estimates (at this writing) all correspond to the earlier figures, not the revised figures that I received today from Sotheby’s, so I assume that the newspaper’s $3-4 million entry for the Calder is an older estimate. (The Eagle may have updated its figures by the time you read this.)

What I wrote yesterday about the possibility of softened prices for the Berkshire Museum’s castoffs seems partially validated by the lowered estimates:

Even without the cloud over these disposals, few-to-none of the Berkshire Museum’s works are obvious art-market standouts. What’s more, this is one instance in which museum provenance, often a plus, could be a detriment: It’s not hard to imagine that museums and collectors who have close ties to public institutions may think twice about participating in sales that respected professional organizations have overwhelmingly deplored.

Then again, as the sale to the Lucas Museum has demonstrated, some buyers are unmoved by what professional organizations think.

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