Fragment of Figure Study II by Francis Bacon © the estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2017. Photo credit: Kirklees Museums and Galleries

Kirklees Council backs down on £20m Bacon sale proposal

Patrick Steel, 04.01.2017
Attempt to sell painting by Francis Bacon would forfeit ownership to Contemporary Art Society
David Sheard, the leader of Kirklees Council in Yorkshire, has been forced to row back on his suggestion that the council could sell a Francis Bacon painting, valued at £20m and described in council documents as “the most significant exhibit in the collection”.

Commenting on Twitter at the end of last year, Sheard said: “If I were a philistine, I might compare the costs of caring for a piece of coloured canvass to an aging resident with dementia.

“I have been asked ‘Should we sell our Bacon’. Any thoughts?”

Bacon's Figure Study II costs £10,000 a year to insure and keep secure. Kirklees’ culture budget is £1.057m, but the council is proposing to halve this to £531,000 from April 2017.

The budget cuts have already seen Red House Museum and Dewsbury Museum close in the past six months, while the future of the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield is uncertain.

Prompted by findings in the council’s annual accounts that only 15% of its 3,000 artworks, worth around £30m, are on display, David Hall, deputy leader of Kirklees Conservatives, was quoted by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner as saying: “It is bizarre the council owns artwork that it cannot insure to display. What is the point in owning pictures that our residents can never see?

“We own paintings by Lowry, Auerbach, Martin and Bacon, and a sculpture by Moore but no one gets to see them because they sit in our cellars.

“The public have no idea what they are or that we own them.”

Museums Journal understands that the Lowry, Auerbach, Martin and Moore are currently on display at Huddersfield Art Gallery.

And following an intervention by the Contemporary Art Society, which donated the Bacon painting to the Bagshaw Museum in Batley in 1952 on condition that it would not be subject to disposal, Sheard tweeted yesterday: “Should the museum attempt to dispose of the artwork it will automatically forfeit title of the artwork to Contemporary Art Society.”

A council statement said: "Kirklees Council cannot sell the work. If we tried, it would be taken away from us and given to another institution.

"Kirklees Museums and Galleries is an Arts Council England Accredited museums service and holds collections in trust for the people of Kirklees. Like other Accredited museums, it works to the Museums Association's Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Disposal."

Sheard told Museums Journal: “If someone approached us now [offering the Bacon painting], would we accept it? The answer is we wouldn’t. It is not a core function of ours to store paintings.”

Graham Turner, the council's cabinet member for resources, said: "Nobody wants to be in a position where museums have to close, or where we have to consider the possibility of selling works of art.

"However, we have had to look at every option, if only to discount it, as we have done in the case of the Francis Bacon painting."

Alistair Brown, the Museums Association’s policy officer, said: “It’s always worrying when councillors suggest selling off the family silver to fill a gap in their budget.

“It would certainly be unethical if they were to do so and I hope that Kirklees Council doesn’t pursue this idea any further.

“But this incident is a reminder of the huge financial strain that councils are under, and the difficult choices that they face in delivering cultural services alongside statutory services.”

The painting has been on loan to the Tate Liverpool since May 2016 for an exhibition that then toured to the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, and will be on display as a loan to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh in February.

It is not the first time that Kirklees councillors have considered selling from the council’s collections. In 2014 councillors voted against a proposal to review the art collection with a view to selling off works.


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22.11.2018, 22:02
Is it just me that loves to hear of a council closing museums and cutting staff, and then moaning that the collections aren’t being displayed. The hypocrisy is palpable.
Jonathan Gammond
Access , Wrexham County Borough Museum
06.01.2017, 16:03
It would be nice to think this whole saga was an ill-judged attempt by council leaders to garner some publicity for Kirklees District as a centre of culture and place to visit, but that would be naive. Let's hope Messrs Hall and Sheard realize the Bacon painting is an asset that is already paying dividends to the communities they claim to represent and will continue to do so for many years, unless it is flogged off for a quick and rapidly spent buck. Tweeting about making comparisons comes over as crass and even offensive in this particular case.
05.01.2017, 16:31
See this really excellent letter from artist Ian Berry. In a week when Huddersfield is again in the news for all the wrong reasons his comments on the potential for great art as a form of 'soft power' are particularly apt.
05.01.2017, 14:53
Clearly Councillor Hall is not a regular visitor to the Art Gallery in Huddersfield, where most of the items he mentioned have been on exhibition within the last twelve months. Why are people with no interest in the institutions setting the budgets?
05.01.2017, 12:57
"If I were a philistine..."

is it 'most significant' because of its exchange value at auction? Or for some other reason? Apparently the Council do not offer an opinion. But if the cost of holding the work is beyond their means, they should discuss its transfer elsewhere.
05.01.2017, 12:24
The right result but sadly indicative of both desperate times and the ill informed nature of the politician's comments. Most of the very best works in the Kirklees art collection have of course been either bought with significant grant aid or were conditional gifts such as CAS so could not be disposed of and realise financial gain for the council . When I worked for Kirklees the head of service kept the file on the Bacon in a desk drawer as we knew that every time there was an election the question of the Bacon would arise and the arguments would need to be rehearsed all over again. Most of the artworks referred to above were last time I looked ( or it would appear from Danny's comments below still are) on display to the public in Huddersfield as part of an exhibition which explained how and why such works were in the collection : Great Art for Everyone.
As there is clearly a job of education to be done I will be writing to Cllr Hall ( no relation but one of my councillors) to offer to help him understand how museums work.
With insurance becoming more of an issue even services keen to borrow major works such as the Bacon are having to look closely at their insurance 'load'.
05.01.2017, 10:33
Good, so glad they've re-considered. If Kirklees really can't display the painting themselves, loaning the work long-term is surely the answer. Then they'd save themselves the insurance, and the work would be seen.

One can see why increasingly desperate councils are tempted to this kind of thing, but it is short-sighted, as well as unethical.
Danny Sheehan
Design , Kirklees Museums
05.01.2017, 10:10
Just to point out that Lowry, Auerbach, Martin and Moore are all still on display in Gallery 5 at Huddersfield Art Gallery
09.01.2017, 10:51
Thanks Danny, I will add that into the body of the piece. All best, Patrick