A painting auctioned without the owner's consent. (c) Christie's
Oh dear, oh dear.... Not a museum being stolen from, but further news from the BBC on a museum selling items loaned to it, without the owners' consent. Massive Whoops.
The British and Empire Commonwealth Museum in Bristol closed in 2008, and Bristol City Council now plans to use the collection in redeveloping it's museum and art gallery. However, 144 items loaned to the museum are currently still unaccounted for, items having been sold to a London-based art dealer (who says he was assured it was all ok), and some pieces having appeared without provenance at auction. This may not be the full story, as no full audit has been previously carried out, so it's impossible to fully track losses.
The director was questioned by police, claimed everything he sold was fully audited, and in a beautiful spat then pointed the finger at the museum's trust for failing to provide a public benefit or cope with financial pressures. The trust have (quite honestly and rightly) explained that they didn't know about all the sales, and that when they delegated responsibilities to him they thought him sensible enough to well, you know, act like a professional, so he has no right to blame them for his own choices or failures to manage.
There is a long standing relationship between museums and benefactors, fostered carefully through the years as venues have developed. Hopefully this won't deter others from allowing their objects to help inform, entertain and enlighten others.
See the story as it was on the beeb a few days ago: Items 'missing' from British and Empire Commonwealth Museum
and more here at the Museums Journal
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