A cash-strapped council has ruled out the sale of a single piece from its £32million art collection - despite the majority of the artwork gathering dust in storage.

Brighton and Hove City Council has one of the most impressive art collections in the country including valuable paintings by Turner, Constable and Gainsborough.

But despite £50 million of savings to be found during the next two years, and a 2% increase in council tax on the cards from April, the authority is refusing to part ways with any of its works.

Community groups are now calling on the council to either put the works on public display or cash in on them.

An Argus Freedom of Information request revealed the council owns some 1,500 oil paintings, 4,000 watercolours and drawings and well over 10,000 prints.

A number of the works are on display in the council’s museums but the majority are kept under lock and key in a secret storage location.

The council was unable to confirm the exact number in storage but said that it was “thousands”.

The collection includes some of the biggest names in art such as Constable, Turner, Calder, Hogarth, Gainsborough and Blake.

Of particular value is Jan Lievens’ The Raising of Lazarus which once hung in the home of Rembrandt.

Constable worth £240,000

Council officials refused to reveal the individual value of the items but public financial statements estimate the collection’s total worth to be £31,426,000.

Nicholas Toovey, from Toovey’s art valuers in Washington, said it was impossible to estimate the values without seeing the pieces.

However, he added that works by Constable could sell for £240,000 alone.

A spokeswoman argued the art collection helped attract thousands of visitors to our city every year.

She added: “Because the city has thousands of items and limited exhibition space, there will always be a proportion of our collection in store.

“However, we rotate the collections regularly to bring those items back on display. Even when not on display, collections are used for research, learning and engagement projects, which benefit residents and the wider public.”

Light damage

She added some works spent large periods of time in storage to protect them from light damage.

In recent years, many local authorities have decided to sell their collections in an attempt to balance the books. Late last year, Tower Hamlets Council announced it hoped to make some £4 million to £17 million from the sale of a Henry Moore sculpture.

In 2011, Bolton Council put up 35 works of art to be sold from the likes of Millais, Picasso and Hutchison, while in 2006 Bury Council raised £1.4 million by selling LS Lowry's A Riverbank.

Community groups and organisations which have fallen victim to recent cuts are now calling on Brighton and Hove City Council to follow suit.

Public display

Pride organiser and Gscene editor, James Ledward, said: “I’ve never been a believer in art which is not on public display. So I’ve got no problem with them selling it off. I would encourage it.”

Malcolm Burstow, who has seen his bowls club in Hove close following council cuts, added: “If they are just sitting there in storage they should get rid of them. At least then someone would benefit.

"However, as always with things like this, it’s a question of where does it stop.”

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Council-owned art should either be on display for residents and visitors to enjoy or loaned out to galleries to make best use of their value.

"And with budgets so tight, the council should be considering whether it needs to retain such a vast and valuable art collection, given the prices that the pieces would fetch if they were sold.

“Brighton and Hove taxpayers are already being presented with a hike in council tax.

No sale

"The pill will be all the more bitter for residents to swallow, knowing that the council is sitting on an art collection worth millions which it is allowing to gather dust.”

A council spokeswoman said the council would not be selling a single piece from the collection.

She added: “In terms of selling artefacts, any museum service pursuing sales from the collection not in accordance with tight rules set out for the sector risks elimination from the government’s museum accreditation scheme.

"Without accredited status museums cannot go for external funding and other support.”

Talking point: What should be done with Brighton and Hove City Council's art collection? Should work be on public display or sold off? Share your views by commenting below or contribute to The Argus letters pages by emailing letters@theargus.co.uk

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