Academic resigns from college over Turner sale: The pounds 11m raised by one Turner may lead to more universities selling bequests. Dalya Alberge reports

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A SENIOR academic has resigned from the governing body of a college in protest at its sale of a Turner masterpiece to the Getty Museum in California for pounds 11m.

Geoffrey Alderman, professor of politics and contemporary history at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, said the loss of Van Tromp going about to please his Masters, Ships at Sea, getting a good wetting, 1844, would do untold damage to the institution.

His resignation came as the art world yesterday expressed its anger over the move which provoked fears that it has paved the way for other cash-starved universities to raise funds by selling art.

There was particular irritation over the Charity Commission allowing the college to sell part of a collection whose 'inalienability had been confirmed in several Acts of Parliament', one as recently as 1985.

The college stands to lose a major collection of antiquarian and musical manuscripts. A former student who promised to bequeath the material threatened to change his will if the sale went ahead. Others are equally outraged saying that Royal Holloway has broken the trust of its founder, the philanthropist Thomas Holloway (1800-83), who gave it an art collection.

Professor Alderman, who quit the college council after it voted 23 to two, with one abstention, to go ahead with the sale, said: 'I regard it a gross breach of trust to the benefactor. The council was lured by great sums of money, but no sum of money will buy my conscience. It was a cop-out, the easy option. Not once did they consider other fund-raising options. Now there is a probability rather than a possibility of the floodgates being opened. As far as the Government was concerned, selling of the pictures was a way forward. We can expect similar pressure to be put on other universities.'

Peter Longman, of the Museums and Galleries Commission, echoed his fears. 'If Royal Holloway could go to the Charity Commission it could pave the way for others to sell.' And Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, described the sale as 'cultural asset-stripping . . . How many more such sales will there be? Only the Charity Commission can stop such sales and they don't seem to be doing their job properly . . .'

Dr Christopher White, director of the Ashmolean, said that there was nothing to stop others following the example. 'The basic problem is money. This will happen again and again when universities . . . feel pushed into a corner.'

It is estimated that there are up to 400 university collections throughout Britain. These include multi-million pound collections as fine as the Ashmolean in Oxford, Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, Barber in Birmingham, Courtauld in London, and Hunterian in Glasgow.

Mr Longman said there were about 75 university collections of national importance. But most of the others were 'not packed full of things that'll go for pounds 11m'.

There is a distinction between a university with a museum-quality collection - as in the case of Royal Holloway - and a university that has set up a museum. There is little fear that any of the magnificent university museum collections may be forced to consider a sale - though, to take one example, judging from the league of the world's most expensive paintings, the Impressionist works in the Courtauld Institute Galleries would send collectors wild. However, Dr Dennis Farr, its director, said that he would not be entitled to sell a single work under any circumstances.

The Courtauld is among about 20 museum collections that are deemed important enough to have been given a separate identity from its university.

As the circumstances and terms of each bequest and donation varied widely, Mr Longman said the legal status of university collections needed to be re-examined.

But Royal Holloway is not the first to sell works. In 1985, Newcastle caused an outcry when it sold the George Brown collection of 3,000 items to the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan, for pounds 600,000. In 1988, Manchester University was criticised when it sold medieval and Renaissance works from the John Rylands Library. And Edinburgh University is awaiting news on whether it can sell works from its Torrie bequest.

Royal Holloway is, however, to continue selling, inviting offers for its Gainsborough, Peasants going to market, early morning, 1770, and Constable, Sketch for a view of the Stour, near Dedham, 1821-2.

Leading article, page 18

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