PITTSFIELD, Mass. (CN) – Norman Rockwell’s three sons are fighting back in court against the Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction off 40 works of art next month, including two pieces from their famous father.
Thomas Rockwell, Jarvis Rockwell and Peter Rockwell – along with artist Tom Patti and Berkshire County residents James Lamme, Donald MacGillis, Jonas Dovydenas and Jean Rousseau – filed a lawsuit Friday in Berkshire County Superior Court to block the sale of the paintings, arguing it would violate the Pittsfield, Mass., museum’s mission.
“The Berkshire Museum’s planned deaccession violates the museum’s establishing statute, promises made to donors and the fiduciary obligations of its trustees,” the Rockwells’ attorney, Foley Hoag partner Michael B. Keating, said in a statement. “This move is also antithetical to the museum’s stated charitable purpose, and is financially unnecessary.”
In July, the Berkshire Museum announced plans to sell 40 works of art worth tens of millions of dollars, claiming it is necessary to fund capital expenditures of $20 million and the creation of a $40 million endowment.
The Rockwell sons’ lawsuit alleges that the museum contracted with Sotheby’s for a public auction in November before it announced its plans to the public, in breach of its fiduciary duties and without legal authority to sell the art.
“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 lawsuit also alleges the museum’s planned auction sale is contrary to a Massachusetts statute establishing the museum, which requires the institution to maintain any gifts it receives “for the people of Berkshire County and the general public.”
Artworks earmarked for sale include pieces by Rockwell, Alexander Calder, Frederic Church, George Henry Durrie, Albert Bierstadt and other artists.
The two Rockwell paintings set to be auctioned off are “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” and “Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop,” which Rockwell donated with the intent they be permanently displayed at the museum, according to the complaint.
“We hope to preserve the Museum’s treasures especially for the families of Berkshire County,” Lamme, a resident of Egremont, Mass., said in a statement. “Norman Rockwell and the other artists would be particularly happy for the children.”
In addition to Keating, the plaintiffs are represented by former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Daniel McFadden, both Foley Hoag attorneys.
A spokesperson for the Berkshire Museum did not respond Monday to a phone call requesting comment.