Two members of Lord Beaverbrook's family say disputed works of art at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery belong to the people of New Brunswick, and a legal challenge launched by their cousins has no merit.
The Fredericton gallery has been fighting for almost two years with two foundations run by Beaverbrook's grandsons about the ownership of more than 200 paintings.
The works in question, estimated to be worth up to $200 million, date from the early 1600s to the 1960s and are by the likes of Sandro Botticelli, Salvador Dali, Lucian Freud, Cornelius Krieghoff and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
Beaverbrook's niece and nephew Jane Aitken and Allan Aitken were in New Brunswick this weekend to see the paintings, which are on display until next month in an exhibition called Art in Dispute. They say their uncle gave the paintings as gifts to the people of New Brunswick, and the foundations have no basis to question his intent.
Allan Aitken was sitting in the audience at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery's opening ceremonies in 1958. He recalls his uncle Max Aitken — Lord Beaverbrook — was elated to hand over the paintings he had selected to the province that raised him. Lord Beaverbrook died in 1964.
He would be deeply troubled, says his nephew Allan, by the turn of events at the gallery had he lived to see it happen: "Misuse of money for one thing, misuse of time and energy, for another, and a rupture between, in this case, at least three entities: one gallery and two foundations that had shown previously that they were able to work cooperatively."
Beaverbrook, the famous press baron from the Miramichi, purchased the paintings over several decades to hang in the gallery that he built on the banks of the St. John River in Fredericton.
Gallery officials say Lord Beaverbrook gifted the paintings to the gallery he built, while the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation and its British counterpart say they were only on loan. The dispute is now before the courts, and each side has launched multiple legal challenges.
Beaverbrook's grandsons, Max Aitken and Timothy Aitken, are in charge of the foundations and are behind the fight to claim the paintings.
Jane Aitken says her relatives — and the foundations they run — are wrong to be fighting this battle and should apologize to the people of New Brunswick.
"They should say 'I'm sorry, we've made a lot of trouble, and it's all a mistake, and of course the paintings belong to the people of New Brunswick and they should stay where they are,'" she said.
Jane and Allan Aitken say New Brunswick mattered to Lord Beaverbrook more than any other place. Lord Beaverbrook gave these paintings to the province, they say, as a means of giving back to a place he loved.
Allan Aitken says he feels there's no question about where the paintings belong — and to whom they belong.
"Since fine art is, at least in part, an emotional expression, I think it's valid to have an emotional reaction. And that's what I have. And mine is that the paintings — in the words of Uncle Max at the opening — were a gift to the province, to the people of New Brunswick.
"I think right here, where they are now, is where the paintings belong and where they should stay," he said.