Two unsold Berkshire Museum works slated for November auction

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PITTSFIELD — Two Berkshire Museum paintings that failed to find private buyers over the summer will be sold at public auction in November, as the institution pushes to close out transactions designed to bring $55 million or more under its control.

Trustees decided at their annual meeting this week to list paintings by Thomas Moran and George Henry Durrie for auction with Sotheby's.

The two paintings are the only works that remain of nine identified for sale in June, as part of a second batch following private sales and auctions in April and May that netted $47 million for the museum.

The paintings — "Hunter in the Winter Wood" by Durrie and "The Last Arrow" by Moran — will be part of the auction house's Nov. 16 "American Art" sale.

Trustees also decided Monday to hire a former Smithsonian leader to help the museum find a new leader.

Brent D. Glass, LLC, an executive search firm, has been tapped to find a successor to Van Shields, who led the push to sell works and retired at the end of June after nearly seven years as executive director.

The firm's principal, Brent D. Glass, is director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

In a statement Thursday, the museum said the search will take six to nine months. It did not disclose the cost of the service the firm will provide.

Glass, in a comment provided by the museum, said his firm will work to find "a strong, creative, and effective leader at an extraordinary moment for the museum and the community it serves."

The museum consulted with six search firms, the winnowed the field to two.

Since Shields left, the museum has been guided on an interim basis by David W. Ellis.

The art transfers were approved by the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County in April, after months of litigation brought by opponents of the sales.

Attorney General Maura Healey and her staff initially questioned the planned sales, announced in July 2017, But in February, after a monthslong investigation, Healey's office agreed to back the sales to provide the museum with a means to address what it said were otherwise insurmountable financial problems that could lead to its closing.

That narrative was challenged by critics of the sales, including members of the citizens group Save the Art-Save the Museum.

They argued that the museum could right its finances through fundraising and retain premier works from its collection. The sales run counter to accepted ethics in the museum world. After trustees announced the sales, Shields withdrew the museum from a program overseen by the Smithsonian Institution.

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


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