Rockwell Family Drops Challenge to Berkshire Museum Sale, Other Plaintiffs to Continue Fight

One of the works that may be sold: Norman Rockwell, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1940.


Another potential barrier to the Berkshire Museum’s plan to sell up to 40 works from its collection, including two Norman Rockwells donated by the artist, fell today. Rockwell’s sons, who had been among a group of plaintiffs who filed the first lawsuit attempting to halt the plan, said that they would cease their objections.

The development comes about a week after the museum, which is located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, announced that it had struck a deal with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office that, if approved by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, would allow it to sell its most valuable work, Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950), to a U.S. institution that would keep it on public view. That deal would also allow the museum to sell other works in order to raise up to $55 million—funds that its board says it needs to stabilize the museum’s finances.

The Rockwell family’s lawyer, Michael Keating of Foley Hoag LLP, issued a statement from the family saying that they had “joined this litigation to prevent Shuffleton’s Barbershop from being sold at a public auction or being removed from public display. That objective has now been achieved and therefore they do not wish to participate in further legal proceedings concerning the disposition of other art held by the Berkshire Museum.” Through the firm, the family said it would not comment further.

Earlier this week, a second group of plaintiffs comprising current and former museum members said they would ask the Supreme Judicial Court to reject the deal on the grounds that the museum’s board had breached its fiduciary duty and that the the AGO should seek a change in governance at the museum.

In a new filing today, plaintiffs who had sued alongside the Rockwell sons asked permission to file paperwork providing their opinion on the proposed settlement. Their filing reads, in part, “Several aspects of the proposed settlement set forth in the petition are concerning, including, among other things, its failure to explain how much and which pieces of the remaining art are expected to be sold following the sale of Shuffleton’s Barbershop and in what order, and what, if any, conditions and monitoring will be imposed upon the Museum’s use of the proceeds from the sale of the art.”

When the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction was first heard in Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield in November, the judge there found that they lacked standing to sue, since only the Attorney General’s Office has oversight of nonprofit institutions. Because the AGO and museum are now working together to bring the matter to a close, they write in their petition, “there is nobody to bring these and other concerns to the court’s attention.”

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