Last of listed Berkshire Museum works sell for less than expected

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Two Berkshire Museum paintings sold Friday for less than their expected low bids, the last of 22 works removed so far from its collection.

A museum spokeswoman said trustees will now decide whether to sell other items, since net proceeds to date have not reached the $55 million ceiling set in a Supreme Judicial Court order. If the museum's deal with Sotheby's allows it to keep the "hammer" price of Friday's sales, the total taken in as of now is $53,050,000 — about $2 million short of the stated target.

The office of Attorney General Maura Healey, meanwhile, has advised the museum that it should not move to sell any other works, though it is cleared by the high court to offer as many as three batches of works.

Friday's sale transferred the final elements of a second lot that the museum identified for sale in June.

Two 19th-century paintings owned by the museum sold as lots 45 and 49 in brisk bidding around 1 p.m. Friday at Sotheby's New York City headquarters.

George Henry Durrie's "Hunter in Winter Wood," an 1860 oil-on-canvas scene, sold for a hammer price of $250,000, slightly below the $300,000 to $500,000 bid range estimated by Sotheby's. When listed for sale in 2017, the painting, a 1947 gift to the museum by the W. Murray Crane family, carried a bid range of $400,000 to $500,000.

Minutes later, Thomas Moran's "The Last Arrow," an 1867 oil-on-canvas work, sold for a hammer price of $1.1 million, $100,000 shy of the low estimated bid of $1.2 million. As with the Durrie painting, the bid range for the Moran painting had fallen from what Sotheby's estimated it might bring at auction in 2017, before litigation halted sales for months.

The museum's founder, Zenas Crane, donated the Moran painting to his Pittsfield institution more than a century ago.

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In a release later Friday, the museum announced sale prices for the two paintings but included the buyer's premium charged by Sotheby's. While those premiums lifted the "aggregate" sale price over the low bid ranges, that money, charged on top of the hammer price, remains with the auction house.

The museum won approval from the SJC in April to sell works to address what it claimed were stubborn financial problems, including a recurring yearly deficit of $1 million and diminished fundraising prospects.

Two lawsuits failed to stop the sales. Initial opposition by Healey's office was withdrawn in February, after it came to terms with the museum to sell up to 40 works under certain conditions.

Critics of the sales claimed that the museum had overstated its money troubles and should observe ethical standards of the profession that do not allow proceeds from art sales to cover operational costs.

Carol Bosco Baumann, the museum's spokeswoman, said Tuesday sales as of that date had netted $51.7 million, after deducting costs, including legal fees.

Baumann said trustees planned to decide whether to schedule further sales after Friday's auction. She confirmed Friday at the total raised to date is $53 million.

Healey's office, meantime, has told the museum's acting director, David Ellis, that no new sales should be scheduled.

"We have communicated to the Museum that [the Friday] sales should be its last. We are confident that the Museum is ready to move forward," Alex Bradley, a spokesman for Healey's office, said in an email to The Eagle.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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