Judge Extends Injunction Against Museum’s Art Sale

“Shuffleton’s Barbershop” by Norman Rockwell.

BOSTON (CN) – A museum trying to auction 40 pieces of artwork, including two Norman Rockwell paintings, will not be able to for at least another month after a Massachusetts appeals court judge extended his injunction.

The extension issued Wednesday by Associate Justice Joseph Trainor extends a temporary injunction against Berkshire Museum until Jan. 29.

Trainor also stayed the ongoing litigation in Berkshire Superior Court, despite the museum’s request to move things along.

In a brief filed with in the Court of Appeals on Dec. 8, attorneys for the museum at the firm Wilmer Hale say the sale is being held up by a “wholly unauthorized”  investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.

“This stark imbalance is entirely unfair and unjustified, and undermines the ‘just, speedy, and inexpensive determination’ of the AGO’s claims against the museum,” the filing states.

The Berkshire Museum began promoting the sale at issue in July, expecting to fetch tens of millions of dollars from the 40 works headed to the auction block.

Proceeds from the sale are slated to fund capital expenditures of $20 million and the creation of a $40 million endowment.

This past October, the three sons of the late artist Norman Rockwell sued in Superior Court to stop the sale. Joined by artist Tom Patti and three Berkshire residents, the challengers say the sale would breach the museum’s fiduciary duties.

The complaint quoted a Massachusetts law that established the museum as requiring it to maintain any gifts it receives “for the people of Berkshire County and the general public.”

“These works of art are iconic and represent the best of American Art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” the complaint states. “As such, they are part of the legacy of Berkshire County, beloved by its community and held in trust to benefit the public, not only in Berkshire County but throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The Rockwell family and their co-plaintiffs are represented by former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Michael Keating and Daniel McFadden, of Foley Hoag.

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office also got involved, filing an injunction in November before the state Court of Appeals to postpone the sale.

Wilmer Hale told the court last week that there was no basis to extend the injunction once it expired on Dec. 11, since the originally scheduled auction date passed in November.

The two Rockwell paintings set to be auctioned off are “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” and “Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop.” Rockwell’s sons say their father donated the pieces with the intent thta they be permanently displayed at the museum.

Other pieces earmarked for sale include works by Alexander Calder, Frederic Church, George Henry Durrie and Albert Bierstadt.

A spokesperson from Healey’s office applauded Wednesday’s extension. 

“We are pleased that this order will allow us to complete our investigation,” spokeswoman Emily Snyder said in an email. “In the meantime, we urge the Berkshire Museum to work constructively with us on alternatives to help secure the future of the museum.”

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