Panel backs Herts County Council’s plans for art collection disposal

Chimneys by Fred Uhlman. Picture: Herts County Council

Chimneys by Fred Uhlman. Picture: Herts County Council - Credit: Archant

Plans to dispose of hundreds of items from Hertfordshire’s art collection have been endorsed by county councillors today, after a debate was triggered by a public petition.

Lake by Gabriel Couderc is also under threat as part of the consultation. Picture: Herts County Coun

Lake by Gabriel Couderc is also under threat as part of the consultation. Picture: Herts County Council. - Credit: Archant

Members of the Herts County Council’s education, libraries and localism cabinet panel were asked to halt the plans, after a public petition with more than 1,500 signatures triggered a debate.

The council made controversial plans to sell or give away 91 per cent of its collection last year, stating that they do not have the funds to curate, maintain and conserve the vast collection appropriately.

They said that disposal – which could raise as much as £400,000 – would be the best course of action.

However, critics have warned that this will mean many works by celebrated modern British artists could “disappear” into private collections, and there have been calls for the artworks to remain together in a single collection.

The council were also asked to look at alternative ways to fund and manage the collection and to put the artworks in trust for the benefit of future generations in Hertfordshire.

A report to the cabinet panel states: “At the point where it is clear which of the 428 first phase of works for disposal will be acquired through sale or gift by Hertfordshire museums, galleries and local groups, the remainder will be auctioned and proceeds from the sale in the first instance invested in the retained collection.

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“The county council’s retained collection will then be catalogued, where necessary conserved, and plans developed to increase its accessibility. This should allow the collection to be best placed to benefit from external funding, to improve display and interpretation.”

The collection includes works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and John Nash, and has an estimated value of £26.2 million. Money raised from the sale of the works would be invested in the remaining collection, the conservation and potential move of the nationally significant sculptures.

After noting the petition, members of the cabinet panel voted to endorse the actions already being taken by the county council.

In an update on the plans, committee members were told 53 of the artworks have been identified to be offered to relevant museums or galleries in Hertfordshire, by sale or by gift.

A further 700 pieces will then be offered to local interest groups and the public in the county.

At the meeting, the founder of the petition pointed to the strength of feeling against the piecemeal sale of the artworks, with the petition gaining more than 1,500 signatures in less than four weeks.

She told councillors that the relationship between the artworks was important and that the pieces should remain as part of a single collection.

“People understand the schools loan service may no longer be viable, but people want the collection to remain in the county and to be available to the public as a cultural resource,” she said.

“If the council sells or gifts artworks without a plan it will be dissipated forever.”

She was backed by Hertford All Saints councillor Andrew Stevenson, who called for a period of further consideration.

He told the cabinet panel: “I do think the county council is in the right place with this in the long term.

“But I do think there are a number of new and emerging galleries – in St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Hertford – and there needs to be a bit more time to collaborate with all these emerging galleries to form an appropriate strategy.”

Members of the panel voted to note the petition and to recognise the steps that had been identified in the officer’s report.

Following the debate, the petition founder said: “I had wanted the council to acknowledge the importance particularly of the schools loan collection, which has an integrity and significance of its own. They did not do this and I am disappointed.”