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Beaverbrook Foundation to auction 48 art works it gained title to in lengthy legal battle

Britain's Beaverbrook Foundation is consigning the 48 art works it was given title to in September at the conclusion of a lengthy and expensive legal battle to Sotheby's auctioneers in New York and London.

Sotheby's confirmed Friday that it would sell the works at a series of auctions set for December this year and January 2010. The 48 pieces were among the 133 that the foundation and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, N.B., fought over for more than six years.

The dispute, which entailed an estimated $20-million in legal bills, revolved around whether the gallery, founded, built and supplied by the first, Canadian-born Lord Beaverbrook, owned the works or they were simply loans, with title held by Lord Beaverbrook's heirs through the foundation he established in the early 1960s.

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An arbitration decision in 2007 by former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory awarded ownership of 85 works to the Fredericton gallery, 48 to the U.K. foundation. This was upheld by a three-judge appeal panel in 2009. But the foundation disputed the ruling and, before reaching an out-of-court settlement two months ago, sought relief from New Brunswick's Court of Queen's Bench.

The art the foundation has is nowhere near the dollar value of the 85 works held by the Beaverbrook gallery, which some have estimated to be worth at least $100-million. In its release Friday, Sotheby's said the highlight of the 48 works it would be selling would be a monumental canvas by 18th-century French master Claude-Joseph Vernet titled A Grand View of the Sea Shore Enriched with Buildings, Shipping and Figures. This oil, carrying a pre-sale estimate of $1.5- to $2.0-million (U.S.), goes to auction in New York as part of Sotheby's Important Old Masters offerings Jan. 27 next year.

Net proceeds from the sale will be directed to the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation, a charity that in recent years, according to the British body that regulates the country's charitable institutions, has had revenue problems. Last year, to meet its debts and obligations, the foundation put up for sale Cherkley Court, the first Lord Beaverbrook's English country estate, purchased in 1911. The asking price is a repoprted $30-million.

Some of the results from the auction and, if successful, manor house sale, will likely end up in New Brunswick as the gallery was awarded costs in earlier legal decisions.

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