MA warns Watts Gallery not to sell paintings

Patrick Steel, Issue 106/7, p5, July 2006
The Museums Association's (MA) Ethics committee has advised the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey, to reconsider its plans to sell items from its collection.

A statement from the committee said: 'There is strong evidence to suggest that the proposed sale is financially motivated. As a result, it runs counter to the MA's code of ethics, which oppose disposal primarily for financial reasons.'

Perdita Hunt, the gallery's director, said: 'We will have to take stock of what the Museums Association is saying to us and consider our next step. There may be other options, although we can't say at this moment.'

The gallery was planning to sell two paintings from its permanent collection - Jasmine by Albert Moore and The Triumph of Love by Edward Coley Burne-Jones - for an expected £1m. Trustees of the gallery had wanted to put the money towards the conservation and storage of the collection.

Shortly before the committee's advice was announced, the Watts Gallery had applied for membership of the MA. Mark Taylor, the MA's director, said: 'A decision has not yet been reached on whether to accept them into membership or not, but we will be discussing the case at our executive meeting in early July.'

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is still waiting for the gallery to do something before deciding whether to remove its accreditation.

Emmeline Leary, the MLA's museums standards adviser, said: 'Until the museum takes action, there is nothing for us to do except offer advice. We have spoken with the Watts Gallery. They requested a meeting and we did discuss the consequences if accreditation requirements were not upheld. There is a risk of them being removed from the scheme, and they have been aware of that from an early stage.'

The Art Fund, responding to the ethics committee's advice, also issued a statement urging Watts Gallery to reconsider its plans.
The gallery has submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for £4m towards its redevelopment. A spokeswoman for the HLF said that it would expect applicants to follow the MA's guidelines on disposal.

Bury Metropolitan Borough Council is still planning to sell a painting by Lowry from its permanent collection. A spokesman for the council said: 'The decision hasn't changed and the financial situation hasn't changed. We are still committed to selling the Lowry. We are deciding on the best avenue to take, whether it is Christie's, or auction or putting it on offer. We will take a decision by late August.'

Claire McDade, a museums development officer for MLA North West, said: 'We are taking this very seriously. If they sell, then we will start proceedings to remove their accreditation.'

In Scotland, the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine has applied for permission to deconstruct the SV Carrick - City of Adelaide, the world's oldest surviving clipper and listed as category A by Historic Scotland. David Thomson, the museum's director, said that the application had been made after an independent survey concluded that the ship would be impossible to restore.

As SV Carrick is a core vessel in the National Historic Ships Committee's register of historic ships, the museum has to go through the planning process before it can begin the deconstruction.

Should the deconstruction take place, the museum is hoping that a steering group including a naval architect, and representatives from the Cutty Sark Trust, Sunderland (where the ship was built), Adelaide and Irvine, would decide what information needed to be collected from the vessel, how this could be communicated to the public, and how it should be remembered.

Patrick Steel