Sotheby’s Organizes a Sale of Paintings by Rockwell, Which Causes a Lot of Controversy


Despite the protests of some museum professionals and activists, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is going ahead with a controversial plan to sell works from its collection. The museum’s leadership has said that proceeds from the deaccessioning will go toward growing the institution’s endowment, renovations on its building, and reorienting its mission toward the sciences.

1830 – 1902
Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire
A. Bierstadt
and dated
(lower left)oil on canvas27 by 44 inches
(68.6 by 111.8 cm)
$ 600,000-800,000

Today, Sotheby’s announced the price estimates for the works. The Berkshire Museum holdings will be offered at auction starting November, and will continue through 2018. The museum has said it hopes to raise some $50 million from the sale.

Leading the sale is a work by Norman Rockwell that has attracted the most ire of those protesting the move. Rockwell’s own family voiced their fierce opposition to selling the work, Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950), telling The Berkshire Eagle, “We believe that this painting is one of Norman Rockwell’s finest and should stay at a public institution, so that it can be seen.” The artist had donated it to the museum. Sotheby’s has estimated that the work, which was originally made for The Saturday Evening Post, will sell for $20 million to $30 million. It will be offered as the house’s American Art sale in New York on November 13.

Another Rockwell in the sale, Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (1940), is estimated to sell for $7 million to $10 million.

1894 – 1978
Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe
(Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop; “I’ll never forget that last hour. And never, I imagine, will any of those who watched. Both men were lost to everything now but the swing from the forge to the anvil, the heels to be turned and the toes to be welded.”)
Norman Rockwell
(lower right)oil on canvas35 ⅛ by 70 ¼ inches
(89.2 by 178.4 cm)Painted in 1940.
$ 7,000,000-10,000,000

None of the other lots have been estimated to sell for eight figures, and many are expected to go for less than $100,000. The 40 lots in the sale amount to one of the largest troves of museum-held works to be offered by an auction house in years, and has turned the tiny regional museum into a national issue played out in the op-ed section of The New York Times and other papers.

The full list of works is below.