Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" — considered to be the most valuable and recognized piece of art being sold by the cash-strapped Berkshire Museum — is being acquired by a yet-to-open museum in Los Angeles.
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced Wednesday it is buying the painting from the struggling Pittsfield, Massachusetts, museum. The Lucas Museum was co-founded by the creator of the "Star Wars" movies, George Lucas. Ground was broken for it last month and it's expected to open in late 2022.
No financial terms had been announced, but the auction house Sotheby's last year estimated the value of the work at $20 to $30 million.
The Berkshire Museum had previously announced plans to sell the painting to another museum in the United States, but did not identify the buyer.
“As a museum dedicated to celebrating visual storytelling, we are honored to become the public steward of this major work,” said Don Bacigalupi, founding president of the Lucas Museum, in a statement. “Norman Rockwell is one of our nation’s most important storytellers, and this cultural treasure will continue to be seen and enjoyed by the public in an American museum, where it will be a source of inspiration for generations to come.”
Also previously announced by the Berkshire Museum, and confirmed in a press release by the Lucas, the terms of the sale include loaning "Shuffleton's Barbershop" to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massahusetts, for up to two years. The painting is expected to go on display later this year and remain there into 2020.
Laurie Norton Moffatt, head of the Norman Rockwell Museum, said her institution is grateful to have the chance to make the work available before it eventually heads west.
“It is especially meaningful for the people of Berkshire County who will have the opportunity to enjoy this masterpiece for a few more years, knowing that it will remain in the public realm," Moffatt said.
And that indeed has been one of the concerns raised by some opponents of the Berkshire Museum's plans to sell more than three dozen pieces from its art collection: Having art currently in the Berkshires that might leave the area never to be seen in the area again.
Others questioned whether the museum's financial condition was as bad as it says it was, and if selling the art was really necessary.
The Berkshire Museum is looking to raise up to $55 million to fund renovations and boost its endowment.
The plan, initially announced last year, had also been the subject of a pair of lawsuits, one which included some of Norman Rockwell's children. Its plans had also been scrutinized by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office.
But last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court signed off a deal between the Berkshire Museum and the AG's office, allowing the sale to take place with some conditions.
In another statement, the head of the Berkshire Museum's board, Elizabeth McGraw, said the museum is grateful to the Lucas Museum for keeping "Shuffleton's Barbershop" in the public eye, and for helping to secure the Berkshire Museum's future.
"Shuffleton's Barbershop" will join other Rockwell paintings at the Lucas, which include "Saying Grace" and "After the Prom."
This story was originally published by New England Public Radio.