Trouble Ahead For Bury Art Gallery After Council Sale Of Lowry

By Graham Spicer | 20 November 2006
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painting of a river surrounded by factories

A Riverbank was painted in 1947 and bought by Bury Council in 1951 for just £175

Arts organisations have responded angrily to the news that Bury Council sold a LS Lowry painting in the town’s collection to help make up for the council’s budget deficit.

The painting, titled A Riverbank, fetched £1.4m at Christie’s in London on November 17, the second ever highest price for a Lowry at auction.

Bury Art Gallery may face future funding difficulties because of the sale, said the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the governing body for museums, libraries and archives in England.

“Bury Council should have taken all possible steps to ensure that the painting was kept within the public domain,” said MLA Chief Executive Chris Batt.

“The motives for the sale of this painting are in breach of the MLA Accreditation Scheme disposal policy, which now threatens their status with us as a registered museum, loss of which is a significant risk to their future access to funding opportunities.”

Accreditation is the national standards scheme covering ethical and professional standards for the sector and the MLA’s Accreditation Committee will meet on December 15 2006 to decide if Bury Art Gallery should be stripped of its accredited status.

Shows a photograph of a museum gallery. Along the right hand side there is a glass display case showing artefacts.

The gallery is part of the recently refurbished Bury Art Gallery, Museums and Archives. Photo Bury Museum & Archives

A Bury Council statement said that the sale was necessary to help solve their 2006/7 budget problems, “following the low settlement the council received from central government”.

Chief Executive Mark Sanders said: “Although the council regret having to realise funds from its art collection, the alternatives such as even more redundancies and closure of values services were more disturbing. We are committed where possible to reinvesting money from the sale into cultural projects such as the completion of the Ramsbottom Library and Adult Education Centre.”

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, which works to help buy important works of art for the nation, condemned the decision:

“With the sale of A Riverbank, the town’s council has jeopardised Bury Museum’s future, just to balance the books. It’s a deplorably short term and irresponsible approach, and Bury’s cultural heritage is the poorer for it.”

The 1947 painting depicts a stretch of the River Irwell surrounded by factories and was sold to a private bidder for £1,408,000 including commission. It had initially been expected to sell for between £500-800,000. Bury Council paid £175 for it in 1951.

Lowry (1887-1976) was born in Manchester and spent most of his life in Salford, and his famous paintings of matchstick men and industrial scenes depicted the local area.

The most expensive Lowry to be sold at auction was Going To The Match, which the Professional Footballers’ Association bought for £1,926,500 in 1999.

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