THE Daily Echo can today exclusively reveal the masterpieces that will go under the hammer in Southampton’s great art sell-off.
Southampton City Council wants to sell a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin – the French master who created The Thinker – and a painting by the British artist Sir Alfred Munnings.
The council’s Tory leaders hope the once-in-a-lifetime sale will raise about £5m, which they have promised will only be spent on a new heritage museum due to open in 2012.
Other masterpieces by Turner, Lowry, Picasso and Monet will all remain in Southampton. New space created by the museum also means an extra 100 paintings will go on permanent display.
Today’s announcement comes after a three-year Daily Echo campaign for some publicly-owned art from the overflowing £180m collection to be sold to fund new culture projects in the city.
Only 200 works in the vast 3,500-piece collection can be shown in the City Art Gallery at any one time and some works have scarcely seen the light of day in years.
The Daily Echo can today reveal that the painting by Munnings, titled After the Race, has only recently returned to Southampton after being on loan to a museum in Essex for the past 20 years.
The council estimates its sale could raise between £2m and £4m for the new £15m museum, which will feature a permanent Titanic exhibition and an extension to the art gallery.
Southampton’s two Rodin sculptures are also both currently being kept in storage in the vaults below the City Art Gallery.
Eve, a near life-size nude sculpture, is valued £1.5m while Crouching Woman, which is just 31cm high, is thought to be worth about £400,000. However, only one will be sold.
The pieces were identified after a review of the collection, which could also lead to the sale of other paintings considered to be of “low significance”.
The Rodin and Munnings works were chosen because they did not form part of the gallery’s focus on British modern and contemporary 20th and 21st century art.
Southampton’s culture boss, Councillor John Hannides, said: “The Munnings has not been seen in Southampton for quite some time and that also goes for the other items too.
“While they have been on display on occasions they are not central to the collection.
“We have looked at all potential options for funding, and we have not yet taken a decision to sell them, but without this it would be very difficult to see how we might otherwise be able to fund the heritage museum.”
Southampton residents can voice their opinions at a public meeting in September, before the Cabinet makes a final decision whether to proceed in late 2009.
If the sale goes ahead, the council first wants to approach other British museums and galleries about whether they would be interested in buying the works.
If prices cannot be agreed they would then be sold to the highest bidder at auction next summer.
Cllr Hannides will travel to London today to present the proposal to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), which is the most powerful arts body in the UK and advises the Government how millions in funding should be spent.
While the MLA has already given in principal support, if it refuses to back the sale it would put the entire heritage museum project at serious risk.