Southampton does U-turn on art sale

Felicity Heywood, 26.02.2010
Other financing found for new museum

Southampton city council has abandoned plans to sell artworks from its collection after identifying new sources of funding to fill the £5m shortfall in the first phase of its Sea City Museum project.


Councillor John Hannides, cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, said the movement in the property and land market gave the council reason to revisit potential assets that previously were seen as unviable for sale.


He continued: “As soon as we had a sense that there were options out there that we could explore, we took it to council [for a decision].”


Hannides presented a motion to the council that proposed dropping the plan to sell artworks in the light of other options. The council accepted this unanimously, said Hannides.


Selling art was “always intended as a last resort measure”, he said. The two works that were to be sold were by French sculptor Auguste Rodin and British painter Sir Alfred Munnings.


Caitlin Griffiths, the Museums Association’s ethics adviser, said: “It’s good that Southampton are going ahead with their plans for the creation of a new museum, and that they can do so without selling items from their collection. Disposals, like the one proposed by Southampton, must be a last resort and it’s good that on this occasion money will be found from elsewhere.


“Southampton's proposals were always going to be controversial and invite strong reactions from the sector, but it is unlikely they will be the last museum to think about this course of action,” Griffiths said.


The council is in discussion with international, national and local organisations that are considering contributing financially. One of them is Hampshire County Council. The cultural offer of the county and Southampton city councils will be rationalised through a partnership to include loans of artworks.


Les Buckingham, a spokesman for the Southampton Save Our Collections Group, said the council could not have ignored the campaign’s mobilisation of 2,000 signatures questioning the proposed sale.


There was also a question mark over whether a sale of one of the artworks proposed was legal under the Chipperfield Bequest Fund, through which it was originally acquired.


But the Attorney General, who was considering the legal position, had passed the matter to the Charity Commission, which was yet to make a decision at the time Southampton decided not to sell.