Northampton council owns a huge art collection worth £30m - but barely any of it is on display

Northampton Borough Council's collection of art is reportedly the second largest local authority-owned hoard in the country - but less than 0.2 per cent of it is currently on display.

Tuesday, 7th January 2020, 6:25 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 12:03 pm

The council has 165,000 items in its possessions at Guildhall and museums, worth a total of £30m, according to research by the TaxPayers' Alliance.

However only 200 items are on display while Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is closed for renovations, 0.12 per cent of the total collection.

Northampton Borough Council defended its stored hoard, which includes the world’s largest local and international shoe collection.

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The statue of John Clare and others in the courtyard at The Guildhall

Darwin Friend, from the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "With council tax hammering hard-working families, town hall art aficionados should question whether hidden collections of costly artworks are the best use of taxpayers' money.

"Of course there are instances where councils have been donated art or forbidden from selling, but surely town hall leaders ought to be making the most of what they have and either allowing the taxpayers that own the art access to it, or selling it off where possible to boost their coffers."

Freedom of Information request by the Chronicle & Echo revealed the council's insurance valuation for Guildhall art is £500,000, but would not release individual valuations for security reasons.

In the last five years, £1,500 was spent replacing a portrait of Northampton's first Asian mayor Jaswant Singh Bains from original sketches, funded through insurance,

Northampton Borough Council owns 165,000 pieces of art, worth 3m, according to the Taxpayers' Alliance

Plus approximately £61,500 has been spent on statues for Guildhall courtyard.

Cabinet member for community engagement and safety Anna King said: “Northampton Borough Council has acquired its collections over 150 years, and they are constantly being added to.

"The majority of the collections were developed through donations rather than purchases.

“As we are limited by gallery space, there are only so many works that can be on display at any one time.

"When the new museum opens we will have two dedicated art galleries with regularly changing exhibitions drawn from the collections.

“Many of our artworks, such as watercolours, would suffer light damage if constantly on display.

"A stored collection means that these can be easily rotated and ensures that we can reach the right balance between displaying artworks and conserving them for future generations.

All oil paintings and 60 per cent of our sculpture collections have been digitised and are accessible to the public on the Art UK website.”

Northamptonshire County Council said it does not record or hold any professional valuations or estimates of the value of its collection of 90 pieces of art.

According to an inventory from 2008, the County Hall collection includes portraits of King William III and Queen Mary II, chairs from the 17th century and a 200-year-old sculpture.

According to the Taxpayers' Alliance, Daventry District Council is in the top 10 local authorities with the lowest proportion of their collection on display, with one piece of art, worth £22,000, which is not on display.

South Northamptonshire Council has five pieces of art, worth £35,000, but all of them are on display.

Middlesbrough Council has the biggest collection of local authority-owned art, with 250,000 items, while Manchester Council has the most valuable at nearly £370m.

Nationally, councils are hoarding 1.9m pieces of art, worth nearly £1.9bn, with an average of less than a third on display.

Mr Friend, who conducted the research, said: "Some councils are able to maximise value for money by maintaining collections which are small enough to be displayed for the enjoyment of the public at all times.

"Other local authorities hoarding their own mystery masterpieces should be following in their footsteps."