Friday, March 28, 2008

The Borough Collection

After the conference at the King's Church Centre, it was straight off to the Arts Centre where I chaired the first meeting of the Borough Collection Steering Group.

The Council's art collection is stored in a secure room in the building. After a report from Resources Scrutiny Committee, officers have been busy cataloguing the pieces of art we have, and their condition. Watsons, our local auctioneers have been brought in to provide more information about the pictures, and their value for insurance purposes. They've evidently done a fine job.

Over the next few months, the job of cataloguing will be completed, including the pictures at Central Hall and the Town Hall. We're also working on a policy that will ensure that some of the more valuable paintings, such as a Graham Sutherland oil and some important local scenes, get displayed more prominently. There are a number of pictures which are the town's 'Crown Jewels' which I want to see restored to their full glory.

I then hope to take a report back to the Scrutiny Committee for their consideration. I suspect at that point there will still be some questions where their input will be particularly helpful - for example, what to do with the significant number of pictures that the Council has been given over the years which Watsons politely described as "potboilers"? They are of little or no value, and have no local link whether by artist or subject.

One piece of good news is that the Council's oil paintings are to be recorded and will be included in the database of the Public Catalogue Foundation, and in time available for view on the internet. I'll blog on this further as more information becomes available.


Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

Nick. That was a really interesting posting.

I remember being told that the old Teesside County Borough Council had some spare cash in the late 1960s and instructed the Schools Adviser for Art to go out and buy some works of art. So having an eye for the finer things he did his duty and managed to buy some works of art which subsequently transpired were very valuable. That's probably what happened in Darlington when it was a CBC

I think quite a number of local authorities built up significant art collections with the view of displaying them in the municipal art gallery for public appreciation and consumption.

It was a bit like the aristocracy in the 1800s going on the grand tour of Europe and picking up works of art and furniture for their country houses.

I would be interested to see them on the website.

Ian White, said...

Why dont the council sellit off and raise some cash?

Darlington Councillor said...

Thanks for your comments, Alan & Ian.

Alan - in the past, as in Teesside, I'm sure that acquisitions were made, although it would appear that in the case of Darlington, this was a very, very long time ago.

For the most part, it would seem that the collection has built up as a result of bequests. Some of these paintings are from the great families of Darlington like the Peases, for example. Others, as I've tried to indicate, are of a questionable value.

Certainly, the collection in Darlington wouldn't justify a separate Art Gallery. Instead, we have a relatively small number of high value paintings, some by local artists or incorporating local scenes, which the public will want to see. Some of these are currently on display at the Town Hall or Central Hall. We can also use the increasingly-popular Myles Meehan Gallery at the Arts Centre to show some of the pieces too, although we need to strike a balance between showing established pictures, and offering space to new and emerging artists.

As for selling the lot off - well, the collection at the Arts Centre has an insurance value of between £300,000 and £400,000. Mostly, this value is dominated by a small number of high-value pieces. These are what I call the town's 'Crown Jewels'. The next step wil be to value the much smaller number of pictures at the Town Hall and Central Hall. There is also a collection, as I've indicated, at the Crown Street Library. I would imagine that the Town Hall and Central pictures will be worth at least another £200,000.

And sell them off? Well, as you may have gathered from the Mayoral debate, I'm a complete traditionalist on the subject of municipal history, and these pictures will be sold off over my dead body! A year or so ago, Bury MBC sold off one of their Lowrys to balance the books, and rightly attracted national and international opprobrium. (

There is a debate to be had about what to do with the 'potboilers' and here I'll be looking for guidance from the Resources Scrutiny Committee. Imagine if you will, a bad day on Flog It!, and you'll gather the quality of a lot of the pictures we have.

Still they have been left to the Council, and I'll welcome views and comments on what should be done with them, once we have a complete idea of the scale of the Council's collection.

Anonymous said...

So theres approx £1M sitting in a vault somewhere while DBC are putting the tax up every year?

This is wrong who gets to say that we keep it or sell it?

If you are that concerned about value etc. why does every project go over budget?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

Totally agree with you the art collection is part of Darlington's heritage which must be preserved.

Mentioning the Lowery puts me in mind of the Antiques Roadshow a few years ago. One of those classic moments.

A builder brought along a painting of match stick men. He had been given the painting by a householder in full settlement of his bill for some building work he had carried out and had been told by the householder that it was a Lowery. The builder swallowed the tale hook,line and sinker.

The expert took one look at painting and prounounced that the painting was not by Lowery, possibly by a rough and ready amateur painter, it was a fake, was worthless and he had been conned