National museums body slams talk of selling off Angus art treaures

The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Scotland’s museums chief has slated any prospect of Angus Council cashing in on cultural treasures to help the authority escape its multi-million-pound financial black hole.

A pair masterpieces by Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger  – worth an estimated £4 million –  were highlighted by Monifieth and Sidlaws councillor Ben Lawrie as something that could be an “option on the table” for the cash-strapped council in its efforts to balance the book.

But the suggestion that a sale may be considered has widespread anger, and now brought with it a warning from national level that offloading artefacts would put the council at risk of breaching a national code of ethics, and future grant funding under threat.

Cllr Lawrie, the authority’s youngest elected member, said he believed the idea of selling off the precious paintings, and perhaps other unseen artworks in the Angus collection, should at least be discussed.  

“With money so tight, selling them should be an option on the table. This amount of money could stretch a long way. This is something that should be debated,” he said.

“There are a lot of important and difficult decisions that have to be made and everything needs to be looked at.”

Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) has now stepped into the row and said it is “concerned” by suggestions that Angus Council should consider selling items from its art collection to meet a funding gap.

Joanne Orr, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland, said: “MGS is disappointed by the suggestion from a councillor that Angus Council should consider selling items from its museums service collection as a solution to financial issues.

“We recognise that the current financial climate means that many museums’ governing bodies face difficult choices in trying to maintain services.

© DC Thomson
Councillor Ben Lawrie.

“Any museum or governing body considering the sale of collections as a solution to these difficulties is encouraged to contact MGS for advice on navigating their situation in a way that is both ethical and sustainable in the long term.”

The body said museum collections were founded on civic conviction, public investment and the goodwill and support of donors, describing them as an act of generosity from one generation to another.

“Even when legally owned by museum governing bodies, collections are primarily held in trust as cultural, not financial, assets. Those responsible for collections have a duty to protect and use these collections for the benefit of the public,” said the MSG.

“Financially motivated sale of any item from the Council’s museum collections would be in breach of the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics, putting the service at risk of being removed from the UK-wide museums accreditation scheme.

“The loss of accreditation could affect the ability to apply for grant funding in the future as membership of the scheme is a requirement for many major funding bodies across the UK, including MGS.”