The director of the Hospitalfield arts centre in Arbroath has cast doubt on whether the local authority’s £5 million fine art collection could be sold to protect vital services.
Lucy Byatt was speaking after Monifieth and Sidlaws councillor Ben Lawrie said selling the collection ”should be an option on the table” in light of the financial pressures on the council.
The council owns two paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger worth in excess of £2m each which are on display at Arbroath Library.
Five other works, worth a total of £670,000, are not on public display.
Ms Byatt questioned whether the Brueghel works could ever be sold as they were bequeathed to the people of Arbroath.
She described the works on display in Arbroath as “enormously valuable, rare, exquisite and important paintings.”
She said that not only did she doubt the council would be able to sell the paintings but that they’d be “foolish” to do so.
Hospitalfield is hoping to raise millions as part of the Tay Cities Deal which would fund the creation of two new art galleries.
A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Hospitalfield and Angus Council which would see the Brueghels housed in the new facility.
Ms Byatt said: “The Brueghels are an enormous asset.
“My understanding is that they were gifted by two private individuals to the people of Arbroath.
“The bequest was that they shouldn’t be moved out of the town.
“We hope to build a small art gallery is part of our development and install them there so that they can become a destination, just as the V&A will be a destination for Dundee.
“They are worth far more to Angus economically in terms of bringing people to the region if they are properly shown.
“People should think of the number of people over the next 50 or 100 years who will come to the town to see them.”
The works are managed by the council charitable trust ANGUSalive which has a policy for when and how items can be sold.
Its guiding principle is that the collections are held in trust for future generations and that there is a “strong presumption against the disposal of any items in the museum’s collections.”
In general disposal may be considered only when an item is badly damaged or when it is a duplicate or unprovenanced work.
First it must check if it is legally free to dispose of an item and in the first instance offered, by gift or sale, to other museums.
Angus Council holds more than 4,000 oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and sculptures in its vast collection.
The two Pieter Brueghel the Younger paintings were donated to the Arbroath Museum Collections in the 19th Century.
The Adoration of the Magi was gifted by James Rait of Anniston prior to 1867 and St John Preaching in the Wilderness was given by James Renny of Edinburgh in 1876.
The paintings have both been on permanent public display in Arbroath since they were donated.
Last month the council was warned by Audit Scotland that it needed to make “unprecedented” changes to achieve a financially sustainable position with an estimated funding gap of £38m over the three years from 2018/19 to 2020/21.
Brueghel’s work is much sought after, with Sotheby’s recording several sales in excess of £4m for smaller work. The council collection was last valued in 2010.
Angus Council could not confirm any legal restrictions to selling the Brueghel at the time of going to press.