Beds, Herts & Bucks

Artwork sales earn Hertfordshire County Council more than £400k

Brandis 1944 - John Tunnard Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption John Tunnard's Brandis painting was sold for £37,000

A Tory-run local authority has made £469,282 from artworks it sold from its collection which it said had "little relevance to the county".

Hertfordshire County Council put 450 items up for auction and they all sold over three months earlier this year.

The money raised will be used to conserve its remaining 167 pieces, the council said.

Opponents of the sale had wanted the "significant body of art" put in a trust.

Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption Anne Redpath's Blue Plate was sold for £31,000
Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption Composition On A Blue Ground II 1933 by Edward Wadsworth was sold for £19,000

The council began to acquire the paintings in 1949 as part of the School Loan Collection, an initiative where schools could borrow art to give pupils access to contemporary works.

The service was cut in 2017, at which point the authority had 1,828 works valued at £26.2m.

The council said it wanted to get rid of 90% of the collection because there was a risk of deterioration and a lack of resources to manage the collection properly.

'Nationally significant'

The majority is being gifted to schools, museums and interested local organisations and the authority has also kept a "small manageable collection" of notable or local important works, including four sculptures which alone are insured for £21.85m.

These are Henry Moore's Family Group, which stands in the foyer of The Barclay School in Stevenage, and two Barbara Hepworth sculptures - Eocene, which is on loan to St Albans Museum and Gallery from St. Albans Girls School for their current exhibition and Turning Forms which stands outside another school in St Albans.

The fourth, Pearl, by James Butler is about to be cleaned and moved to Hatfield town centre in July.

The council said it was committed to improving the condition and public visibility of its "nationally significant sculptures".

Image copyright St Albans Museums
Image caption Hepworth's Eocene remains in the council's collection - it is currently on display at St Albans Museum having most recently been at St Albans Girls' School to where it will return
Image copyright Hertfordshire County Council
Image caption Henry Moore's Family Group was commissioned by The Barclay School in Stevenage and three other versions of it were cast

Conservative councillor Terry Douris said: "Now the auctions are over, we can look towards the restoration of our retained pieces and improving accessibility for the public so everyone can start enjoying these pieces."

A petition to stop the sale asked the council to seek alternative funding options and place the collection in a trust so that it would not be "lost to the public forever".

A number of paintings in the April auction were put on hold while Cambridge auction house, Cheffins, investigated reports of "suspicious behaviour" by an online bidder.

The council said "the sales results all stand" following the investigation.

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