Works by J.M.W. Turner and Lucien Freud will remain in Canada after the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton won the final round of a lengthy legal battle over dozens of disputed paintings worth an estimated $100-million.
The paintings staying in Canada include the most valuable of 133 works that once belonged to Lord Beaverbrook, who grew up in New Brunswick. Ownership of these was challenged by a British foundation controlled by the press baron's descendents.
The gallery insisted the artworks had been a gift while the foundation claimed they were on loan. In an appeal
ruling released this week, an arbitrator's decision backing the gallery's claim to most of the paintings was upheld. There are no further avenues of appeal.
"A higher authority determined the rightful ownership," gallery director Bernard Riordon said yesterday.
"From our perspective this is closure and it's time to move on," he said from Fredericton. "We're going to share these treasures with the rest of the country."
The foundation's attempts to regain control of the paintings began in 2003, when they sought the "return" to England of the Turner and the Freud. They reportedly planned to sell these to cover renovation costs for a country estate Lord Beaverbrook purchased in 1910. His heirs wished to turn Cherkley Court, which can be rented for private functions, into a heritage site.
The gallery's board balked at losing such valuable works - Turner's T he Fountain of Indolence and Freud's Hotel Bedroom, according to some estimates, could fetch $35-million and $10-million respectively - and the dispute over all 133 paintings eventually went to arbitration.
The foundation won a partial victory in 2007 when the arbitrator, retired Supreme Court justice Peter Cory, gave them ownership of about one-third of the 133 disputed paintings. But the two most valuable were not among those and they filed an appeal.
The panel of three appellate arbitrators, all retired judges, upheld the earlier ruling. In a decision issued late last month but not released until this week they also upheld Judge Cory's decision that the foundation pay $4.8-million in legal costs.
"With this decision, the long legal dispute over ownership of these important works comes to an end," said Premier Shawn Graham. "This decision reinforces the prime place the Beaverbrook Art Gallery plays as New Brunswick's provincial gallery and as the centre of the arts community in our province."
Neither public relations nor legal counsel for the Beaverbrook Foundation could be reached for comment. In a statement on their website, they said they were "obviously disappointed" with the ruling but "relieved" the process is finally over.
The foundation said that they had little choice but to pursue every legal avenue to establish ownership of the paintings.
"This has not been a fruitless battle," the statement noted. "It was an important case for the Foundation to bring and it welcomes the return of a third of the disputed pictures."
Another dispute, this one between the gallery and the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation, is still headed for court in New Brunswick. At issue there is the ownership of another 78 paintings. Vincent Prager, vice-president of the Canadian foundation, said that this week's ruling doesn't affect their case in any way.Report Typo/Error