Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery made headlines recently as it auctioned off a significant painting by British artist Laurence Stephen Lowry, commonly known as L.S. Lowry. The masterpiece in question, titled “Beach Scene, Lancashire,” was initially acquired by Lord Beaverbrook in 1955 and generously gifted to the gallery in 1959.
Tom Smart, the director of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, confirmed the sale, stating that the process involved what is known as “deaccessioning.” This method, Smart explained, entails removing artworks from the gallery’s collection, and in this case, the funds generated from the sale will be reinvested into the gallery’s acquisition fund.
The decision to de-access was not taken lightly, Smart noted, emphasizing that the gallery follows a transparent procedure. The collections committee and the board are informed of the decision, and discussions ensue regarding the rationale behind removing specific works from the collection.
In this instance, the painting “Beach Scene, Lancashire” dated 1947, portrayed a lively beach in northwest England, with a central focus on a large boat surrounded by smaller vessels. Smart revealed that the decision to sell the painting was influenced by its rarity of exhibition and the existence of multiple other Lowry pieces in the gallery’s possession, some of which better represent the artist’s typical themes.
The estimated sale price for “Beach Scene, Lancashire” ranged between $1.7 million and $2.6 million CAD, making it the highest estimation among five Lowry works auctioned by Sotheby’s in London.
Despite the financial success of the auction, the move sparked concerns from some residents. Brian MacKinnon, a Fredericton resident and artist, expressed his unease about parting with such a significant piece of art. He believed that the public discussion surrounding the sale should have been more extensive, considering the gallery’s status as a public art institution.
However, Smart reassured the public that the process was indeed public, involving communication with the board, news releases to local agencies, and an export permit application through the Government of Canada.
In the days following the auction, it was revealed that “Beach Scene, Lancashire” sold for slightly over $2 million at Sotheby’s. The exact amount and details about the buyer remain confidential, as per Sotheby’s policy.
Tom Smart, who had earlier mentioned that funds from the sale would contribute to the acquisition of new works, was not available for comment after the auction.
The painting’s journey from Lord Beaverbrook’s acquisition in 1955 to the recent auction was part of a broader narrative that included legal disputes over a collection of works sent to the gallery. In 2007, an arbitrator ruled that the gallery owned 85 of the works, including the recently auctioned Lowry, which were sent before the gallery’s opening in 1959.
While the sale of “Beach Scene, Lancashire” has stirred both financial success and public discourse, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery looks forward to reinvesting the proceeds into acquiring new artworks that will enrich and diversify their collection.