Legality of museum’s plan to sell Rockwell paintings is questionable
I am surprised, especially in light of the objections of the Rockwell family (“Keep Rockwell paintings in the Berkshires,” Opinion, Aug. 7), that there has been no public report (as far as I have seen) of anyone raising the question of the legality of the Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction off two Norman Rockwell paintings that were acquired by gift to the museum.
In Massachusetts a gift of specific property for the use of a charity is subject to an implied trust that it will be used for the charitable purposes for which that corporation is organized (Wellesley College v. Attorney General of Massachusetts, 1943). When a gift of property is made that is specifically related to that corporate mission, that trust becomes more limited, and requires that that property be used for that mission.
I think that for a museum that displays art to sell a painting that was gifted to it is as much a breach of that trust and a violation of the intent of the donor as it would be for a land trust that falls upon hard times to sell some of its gifted real estate for development to keep the enterprise afloat. I hope that the Massachusetts attorney general weighs in on the issue.
The writer is an attorney.