Letter: Heartbreaking loss of Hudson River paintings
Last week my wife and I traveled by automobile from our home in Annapolis, Maryland to Boston to spend a few days with our son from Japan and his daughter, a first-year college student in Boston.
We planned our return trip specifically to visit the Berkshire Museum and view its collection of Hudson River School paintings. In response to our inquiry at the ticket desk we were informed that 40 masterpieces had been consigned to Sotheby's auction house in order to raise funds (about $55 million0 for "future enhancements and upgrading the facility."
Nevertheless, we decided to tour the museum. We don't expect to be dazzled by a museum's outward appearance and were not at all displeased with Berkshire Museum's facility. Absent its art collection, however, our take-away was that the museum was only a discordant collection of a thousand dead beetles, a moose head, a smattering of marble sculptures and an Egyptian sarcophagus, to name a few. To quote my wife, "This is truly heartbreaking."
Selling a capital asset to cover an operating budget shortfall is always a tough decision. By electing to keep the doors open and to meet the payroll, the resident board has opted to sacrifice an irreplaceable collection representing of works from a preeminent American school of art situated in the Berkshires' own backyard! . This choice also represents the abdication of a solemn trust that all museum board members undertake: to ensure public access in perpetuity to all items that the museum agrees to display. Furthermore, this will likely create another challenge for the Berkshire Museum as it seeks to credibly attract potential in-kind donations at some future date — donations of art and artifacts that maintain the appeal of a successful museum.
Selling 40 masterpieces to "keep the doors open" is analogous to removing the heart to save a limb — not an enlightened formula for long-term survival. If this measure is taken, many like us will not continue
to support the Berkshire Museum with our donations or plan to go out of our way to stop there in the future.
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