Le Picador by Pablo Picasso

Bolton confirms 36 paintings to be sold

Rebecca Atkinson, 04.03.2011
List includes two Picassos and three paintings from museum's display
Bolton Council has confirmed plans to sell 36 paintings at auction later this year.

The council originally intended to select 41 works for disposal, but four have now been removed from the list because further research found they had significant connections to Bolton. A further work – A Proposal by Thomas Rowlandson – was removed after experts discovered it was a copy.

Three paintings up for disposal (Sea Gulls and Sapphire Seas by Robert Gemmell Hutchison, A Norfolk Landscape by John Berney Ladbrooke, and The Somnambulist by John Everett Millais) were on display in the museum but have now been removed and put into storage. All the other works were already in storage.

Click here for a full list of works to be auctioned (word)

Other works the council will sell include: Pauline de Talleyrand-Perigord by Walter Sickert; Portrait of Mary Sartoris by Frederic Leighton; and Peintre et Modele and Le Picador, an etching and a lithograph by Pablo Picasso.
The council hopes to raise £500,000 from the auction and the money will be used to fund a new storage facility for the museum. A spokeswoman for the museum said it was not yet in a position to announce which auction house the works will go through, but added the sale is likely to happen this summer.

Elaine Sherrington, Bolton Council’s executive member for adult and community services, said: “Initially, the proposal was for 41 items to be sold and the intention was to exclude those from current exhibitions and items from the core collections: Egyptology, postwar 20th century British art and items which document Bolton’s history. We also stipulated that none of the items proposed for sale were to have been donated to the council or bought using grants and other external funding.”

Sherrington added that the paintings on display in the museum fall outside of its core collection and are wholly owned by Bolton Council.

The council’s executive committee voted in December last year to dispose of the works before entering into a tendering process for auction houses. However, the Museums Association’s ethics committee has previously raised concerns with the council about the lack of public consultation. 

The next ethics committee meeting is on 14 March and Bolton Council's disposal is a major item on its agenda.

Click here for Maurice Davies on the sale for Radio 4's Front Row


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09.12.2013, 18:19
All the comments listed are well out of date but the situation has not changed and museums are still under financial pressure. Whether an item or collection can be disposed of should be part of the agreement when the museum first accepts the item or collection in the first place. With regards to earlier donations the assumed wished of the donor should be taken into consideration if possible. Original ownership should be unambiguous. If the collection was part of a tax avoidance agreement then its owner is clearly the tax office and this should be taken into consideration.
Breaking up a collection by selling off part of it can hardly be construed as reflecting the donor's wishes. With single items, such as paintings, would the donor have given it if it was known that it would later be sold for its value? This is particularly so if a museum originally started the collection as a matter of prestige and, once established, later changed its mind about its objectives.
As a donor myself I now think there is a need for a clear agreement about the possible future disposal of a given item, set out as a series of possible options.
With items that have long been in a collection their value to the museum as a whole and the effect of their removal should be assessed by an independent body. It would not be beneficial to any museum if it sells its most valuable items and end up with a motley collection of the cheaper stuff, whether of local interest or not..
I suggest that all museums should have or start a contingency fund, such as to repair the roof before it starts leaking. Second, I feel sure that more promotion for voluntary support would bring more of the community into the support of their local museums.
17.03.2011, 11:08
I think the process of rationalising a collection and removing items not relevant to the museum's core role is a good thing. The process itself can lead to a better understanding of the collection for all involved. If it can raise funds for the museum to help towards its survival, then it is an added bonus, as long as all attempts are made to keep material in the public domain. After all, we are really just guardians of this material.
MA Member
16.03.2011, 15:40
Fine, sell it all off to pay for your salaries, and the NHS, education, council houses... But you'll only do that once and do we then trust you to decide what's relevant?
09.03.2011, 19:55
I’m afraid it's all about money or the lack of it , the only way left to raise funds to keep museums going is to sell off parts of the collections that are not relevant to the core commitment of the institution in question, forget ethics and start thinking economics. So many professionals are facing redundancy across the uk ,English Heritage , National Trust not to mention all the independent consultants that will no longer find employment because of lack of funding , the collections have to be rationalised to bring down storage costs man hours looking after them ,I could go on and on. So why not cut costs and provide revenue to care properly for what’s left and relevant.Wake up people this has got to happen!
09.03.2011, 14:39
Did anyone at Bolton Council think to offer these for sale to another museum (or museums) in Britain first? That way they would at least have remained in public hands - perhaps at a museum or gallery better able to display them.
MA Member
09.03.2011, 14:24
I always felt uneasy that the ethical guidelines cannot really be enforced and proper public consultation is often the first thing to be ignored. I'm sure many other Councils are looking into similar types of sales to raise some cash. This type of disposal does not encourage philanthropy or volunteers or Friends groups.
09.03.2011, 12:45
Plenty for ethics committee to ask about:

- Was an auctioneer involved in selecting the works?
- Is that auctioneer connected to any member of Bolton Council staff?
- Why were staff not involved until after the 41 shortlist was drawn up?
- Where has the "core collection" concept come from? It's not in the A&D policy.
- Why was no public consultation done?
- Why was the list kept secret?
- Why was "commercial sensitivity" listed as an issue when publicity creates demand?
- Why did Bolton council staff lie and claim no on-display works would be included when they knew four pieces were on display at the time?
- What was the intellectual rationale for the list?
- Why was the historical significance not considered until after the list was drawn up?
- Was it purely driven by ease of sale?
- Is the money raised ring-fenced for collections work only?
- Why have other "non-Core" collections such as natural history, decorative art, ethnography, and non-British, non-Egyptian archaeology been considered?