Max Aitken hopes to end latest Beaverbrook art dispute

Max Aitken, the new chair, of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation says he still hopes to resolved an eight-year-old dispute with Fredericton's Beaverbrook Art gallery over 78 pieces of art.

Legal fight revolves around more than 78 pieces of art

The new chair of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation says he still hopes to resolve an eight-year-old dispute with Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery over 78 works of art.

Max Aitken, the chair of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation, said he hopes the eight-year-old legal fight can be resolved. (Twitter)

But Max Aitken says there doesn’t appear to be a settlement on the horizon anytime soon, so the battle will almost certainly continue in the courts.

"The foundation hopes that we can settle and has tried many times," Aitken said in an e-mail exchange with CBC News.

"But the parties remain unable to agree."

Aitken is the 35-year-old great-grandson of Lord Beaverbrook, who founded the art gallery in 1959. Aitken took over as chair of the foundation in June, after Tim Aitken, a grandson of Lord Beaverbrook, resigned.

The change in leadership is the latest twist in a saga that has seen deep divisions emerge among the descendants of the legendary London press baron, who was raised in New Brunswick.

Lord Beaverbrook donated many pieces of art from his personal collection to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. (The Beaverbrook Foundation)

According to court documents, Tim Aitken — once the most aggressive critic of the gallery — had negotiated a potential settlement in the dispute earlier this year.

But when the directors and members of the foundation board balked, he quit, according to the court documents.

Max Aitken, whose father Maxwell is the current Lord Beaverbrook and a first cousin of Tim, refused to discuss the proposed deal or why the directors and board members rejected it.

"I can't talk about the detail of the talks earlier this year as there's nothing to tell other than the bottom line," he said.

"The sides were too far apart."

Second art dispute

The dispute with the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation is the second of two disputes involving works of art at the Fredericton gallery.

It revolves around documents from 1970 showing that the Canadian foundation bought the 78 works from Lady Beaverbrook, the press baron’s mercurial widow, while they were housed at the gallery.

The gallery argues the 1970 sale was based on a lie, because Lady Beaverbrook never actually owned the paintings. The gallery says it owned them all along, as per Lord Beaverbrook’s wishes.

The gallery has been trying to hold a discovery hearing with Tim Aitken since the dispute began in 2004, but it’s been impossible to schedule one.

Now that Tim Aitken has quit the board, the foundation has argued the gallery should depose someone else. The gallery is appealing a court ruling that says Tim Aitken does not have to testify.

The heirs of Lord Beaverbrook have sold off the press baron's former Cherkley Court estate in England. It is now being turned into a golf course. ((The Beaverbrook Foundation))

Among the works in dispute with the Canadian foundation are two portraits by Salvador Dali, one of Lady Beaverbrook and one of Beaverbrook’s friend Sir James Dunn. The two portraits flank the gallery’s signature work, Dali’s Santiago El Grande, which is not in dispute.

The first art battle, settled in 2010, was with the Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation over 133 works with an estimated value of $100 million. It is chaired by the current Lord Beaverbrook.

The settlement saw the gallery keep 85 works that were acquired by Lord Beaverbrook before the gallery’s opening in 1959. The U.K. Foundation retained 48 that were obtained afterwards.

Among the works the gallery kept are J.M.W. Turner’s The Fountain of Indolence, valued at $25 million when the dispute began in 2003, and Lucian Freud’s Hotel Bedroom, estimated at $5 million at the time.

Legal bills from the U.K. dispute forced that foundation to sell Cherkley Court, the country estate once owned by Lord Beaverbrook.

The property is now being turned into a luxury golf course.