Tired of being portrayed as a money-grabbing aristocrat down on his luck, the current Lord Beaverbrook is telling his side of the story in an ugly dispute over ownership of millions of dollars worth of art treasures housed at New Brunswick's provincial art gallery.
Sir Max Aitken, grandson of the original Lord Beaverbrook who founded the gallery in Fredericton in 1959, said Tuesday his family is sad and disappointed that no one in New Brunswick has backed them throughout the three-year tug of war over who owns the paintings.
"It is frustrating that no one in New Brunswick has stood up and said, 'Look here, this is enough,' " Aitken said in an interview in Toronto.
"The way the Aitken family is being portrayed in the press by the agents of the gallery is just disgraceful. The half-truths and lies being peddled to the press … are absolutely appalling.
"Did we get one jot of support? The answer is no."
A decision is expected next month in an arbitration to decide whether 133 masterpieces at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery are the property of the gallery or of the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation, a charitable organization in which Aitken serves as a trustee.
The gallery and the foundation have been quarrelling over ownership of the sculptures and paintings since 2004.
The gallery contends that the works in question, estimated to be worth at least $100 million, were a gift from the late Lord Beaverbrook, a New Brunswick-raised newspaper baron and the province's most generous benefactor.
The foundation, which Beaverbrook established in the 1950s to look after his philanthropic interests, claims that the works in dispute were merely on loan to the gallery.
Aitken said the dispute began when he suggested selling a couple of the most valuable paintings to give the gallery money it needs to buy new works and put on more exhibitions.
The two paintings the U.K. foundation wants to put on the block are The Fountain of Indolence, a work by British artist J. M. W. Turner that is estimated to be worth $25 million, and Hotel Bedroom by Lucian Freud, which could fetch $5 million.
Aitken said $5 million would be given to the gallery from proceeds of the sale, and more money would be offered to help with the gallery's operations.
During the arbitration, at least one witness for the gallery referred to Aitken's highly publicized money problems. Aitken, a British peer and baronet, declared bankruptcy several years ago.
His current ventures include an on-line gambling site, CheekyMoon.com.
Aitken insisted Tuesday he would not gain personally from the sale of the paintings.
"I saw it as a bit of a fighting fund to awaken the sleeping giant," he said, referring to the gallery.
However, the "sleeping giant" Aitken awakened was the ire of the gallery's board of directors, which believed it had a responsibility to protect the collection as a gift to the people of New Brunswick — the province the original Beaverbrook called home.
Judy Budovitch, past chair of the board of governors of the gallery, told the arbitration hearing in Fredericton late last year there was no way the gallery was simply going to give away what amounted to its birthright.
"We were between the proverbial rock and a hard place," Budovitch said.
"On one hand, we faced the wrath of the Beaverbrooks. On the other, it was clear that if we signed over the artworks, we would not have been fulfilling our responsibilities to the institution."
Aitken said he was shocked by the board's response.
He said he had been dealing with gallery curator, Bernard Riordon, who seemed to agree with his plan.
"I hadn't had the least indication that this was something that would be anathema to the gallery," Aitken said.
"I was very surprised we were just fobbed off with the statement that the gallery did not accept our ownership when, for 45 years, they had confirmed it in every way imaginable."
Aitken said that although the dispute has severed relationships between the Beaverbrook family and New Brunswick, he still hopes a working relationship with the gallery can be re-established.
"The prestige of the gallery is good for me, the Aitken family and good for New Brunswick," he said.
"I hope we will be able to re-establish a working relationship that is beneficial for everybody and awaken the sleeping giant rather than, frankly, wasting huge amounts of money on legal fees."