Bolton Council's loony de-accessioning

July 14 2011

Image of Bolton Council's loony de-accessioning

Picture: BBC

Bolton Council has been selling off a series of works from their museum to try and raise £500,000 for a new storage facility for the rest of their collection. The picture above, J E Millais' Somnambulist, was supposed to be the big gun of the disposal, with an estimate of £70,000-£100,000. But it only just sold at £74,400, including buyer's premium. This means that the bidding didn't make it to the lower estimate. 

The Independent reports that it sold to an American private collector, and will now leave the country. So that's Bargain Hunting Foreign Collectors 1 - Guardians of our Cultural Heritage 0.

As I've said before, I have no problem with well-managed deaccessioning, if it raises funds for worthwhile projects. But real questions have to be asked as to whether Bolton Council have made the correct decisions when it comes to placing their works on the market. The Millais was one of 36 works being sold. A Picasso lithograph failed to sell last week at £10,000.

All the sales were made by Bonhams. Bonhams can sometimes get excellent prices - but should all the pictures have been consigned to one auction house? Or could certain pictures have been better placed with different auctioneers at different dates? Might the Millais have done better if offered at Christie's or Sotheby's in their major sales in the winter?

There is a real lack of transparency when it comes to deaccessioning, and this risks undermining the whole process. As I have suggested before, we need to have some sort of structure to help manage the process. The Museums Association has now been contacted by another council with regard to a major disposal. And there will be many others...

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