Congratulations to the YEP for using the Freedom of Information act to highlight that Leeds Museums and Art Galleries have been quietly selling off the gift of Peruvian furniture made to the city.(YEP December 28th and 31st 2012).
This has serious implications for the future. If a bequest is made or a gift is partly or wholly paid by a donor or charity then responsible public collections do not sell the gifts or bequests that they have accepted. It is simply a case of trust.
Now those making a gift to Leeds Museums and Galleries will never be certain that their gift will not be sold off. Oh dear—however one wraps up the reason for the decision the message is loud and clear—don’t give a work of art to Leeds Museum and Galleries if you want to be certain that it will be available to the Leeds public in years to come. Would you give or make a bequest if you thought that your generous gift might be sold off?
There are important questions. “Sold on curatorial ground” said an anonymous council spokeswoman. Who presently has the curatorial academic expertise to decide which four items of the 36 bequeathed should be sold? What were the selection criteria? Which four pieces? Why only four? No plans to sell any more next year said the anonymous council spokeswoman—but the year after? Answers please.
These important and potentially damaging decisions must have been signed off by someone. Let’s hear from those involved!
Perhaps future bequests and gifts should made to the charities, The Friends of the Museums or the Leeds Art Fund who would then lend to the city on a permanent basis without the fear of Leeds ‘selling off the family silver’!
The former Director of the Leeds Art Galleries, the late Christopher Gilbert and international furniture authority devotes sixteen pages in his book Furniture at Temple Newsam and Lotherton Hall to the Peruvian collection.
So four items of our Peruvian collection have gone to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. The Museum of Fine Art in Boston is one of the world’s great galleries, now a little greater thanks to the generosity of Leeds Museums and Galleries.
The councils Scrutiny Committee needs to look at the serious implications of this decision.
We need a categorical assurance that this selling will never happen again. We need transparency. My New Year wish is for Leeds Museums and Galleries to prosper. We have one of the country’s greatest collections—let’s cherish it.
Honorary Alderman Jeffrey Sherwin, former Chairman of Leeds Leisure Services (with responsibility for Art Galleries and Museums).