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Rockwell Painting At Center Of Controversial Berkshire Museum Art Sale To Stay In Mass. Until At Least 2020

A closeup of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop."MoreCloseclosemore
A closeup of Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop."

The Norman Rockwell painting at the center of the controversial Berkshire Museum art sale won't be pulled out of Massachusetts — or the Berkshires — just yet.

The painting, "Shuffleton's Barbershop" will stay in the state until at least 2020, beginning with an exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

It will be part of the "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Narrative Tradition" exhibition," Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt announced this week, and will be on view there from June 9 through Oct. 28.

After the exhibition, the painting will remain on display alongside the largest collection of Rockwell art until 2020. Then, "Shuffleton's Barbershop" will most likely go to another Massachusetts cultural institution before heading west in 2022 for the opening of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the painting's new owner.

The Lucas Museum — founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas — bought the Rockwell work from the cash-strapped Berkshire Museum at an estimated cost between $20 and $30 million. In keeping with a court order from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the Lucas Museum agreed to keep it on display in the state before including the painting in its permanent collection.

“This masterpiece has long been an inspiration to the people of Massachusetts, and we are delighted to be working with the Rockwell Museum to allow its continued public accessibility,” Don Bacigalupi, founding president of the Lucas Museum, said in a statement posted on the Norman Rockwell Museum's website.

Berkshire museum officials in court said they needed to raise $55 million for essential renovations of its buildings and to boost its endowment. Without the sale of the artwork, the museum would eventually close, Berkshire officials insisted. The plan to sell about 40 pieces of art caused a firestorm of debate as cultural institutions and museum groups across the country weighed in on the proposed sale. Many said they feared the move will set a precedent for other struggling museums, and could dissuade private donors.

Of the 40 works of art the Berkshire plans to sell, "Shuffleton's Barbershop" gained the most attention.

Described as a work of "compositional complexity and emotional subtlety," by the Norman Rockwell Museum, the painting features a trio of amateur musicians in a warmly lit back room of a barbershop. Painted for the Saturday Evening Post cover of April 29, 1950, Rockwell later gifted the oil on canvas to the Berkshire Museum.

The painting embodies the quintessential qualities of a Rockwell painting: a detailed account of a commonplace occurrence with a vivid sense of place and time. The painting is framed through a window of the barbershop — as if we are peeking from the street into an intimate scene.

Amid protests outside of Sotheby's in New York, three other of the Berkshire paintings sold this week. All of them attracted lower bids than their high estimates. An Alexander Calder motorized sculpture "Double Arc and Sphere" sold Wednesday for more than $1.2 million at the Contemporary Art Evening Auction. The wood and wire piece had been expected to sell for up to $3 million.

On Monday, protesters of the sale gathered outside of Sotheby's as two other pieces were auctioned. A charcoal drawing by Henry Moore yielded $300,000, an auction price well below its pre-sale estimate of $400,000–600,000. A Francis Picabia painting from 1914 sold for $1.1 million, a sliver below its high estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million.

Most of the other works will be put on auction at Sotheby's in New York City on May 23.

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Maria Garcia Twitter ARTery Reporter
Maria Garcia is a reporter for WBUR's The ARTery, covering art and culture.

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