Bury Lowry sale a 'dark day' for museums says MA

As Bury Metropolitan Borough Council sells a Lowry for £1.4m to plug a hole in its finances, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the Museums Association (MA) prepare disciplinary actions...
Caitlin Griffiths, the Museums Association's advisor on professional issues, said: 'This represents a dark day for museums, and a worrying development particularly for local authority museums.

'We can only hope that the MLA takes swift action to deter any other local authorities from doing the same thing, and that what has happened at Bury is a deplorable one off.

'As a result of the sale the MA will now proceed with disciplinary proceedings against Bury, the disciplinary panel will meet in early December to deal with this matter.'

Bury MBC resigned its membership of the MA earlier this month. The MA's Disciplinary Panel will be meeting on 6 December to decide whether or not Bury MBC should be retrospectively expelled.

The council's art gallery and museum may also lose its status with the MLA. Chris Batt, the MLA's chief executive, said: 'Bury Council should have taken all possible steps to ensure that the painting was kept within the public domain. The motives for the sale of this painting are in breach of the MLA Accreditation Scheme disposal policy, which now threatens their status with us as a registered museum.'

The MLA's Accreditation Committee will convene on 15 December to decide on Bury Art Gallery and Museum's status within the scheme.

Lowry's A Riverbank exceeded its £500-800,000 asking price, selling for £1.4m to a private collector based in the UK. It was the second highest price a Lowry has ever sold for at auction, and a spokesman for the auction house Christie's described it as 'the best example of a Lowry that we've seen'.

With speculation mounting over the identity of the buyer, Frank Cohen, a prolific art collector from the north of England and the owner of several Lowrys, said that he had not purchased the 'fabulous' painting.

He added: 'I realise that they are under-funded, but people won't want to give things away to museums if they think they might be sold in future. If I give something away, I make it a condition that it is never sold.'

Money raised from the sale will be used to resolve Bury's 2006/7 budget deficit.

Bury Metropolitan Borough Council's chief executive, Mark Sanders, said: 'Although the council regrets having to realise funds from its art collection, the alternatives such as even more redundancies and closure of valued services were even more disturbing.'

To see the MA's disciplinary regulations, click here