Legal action has been sought to prevent Croydon Council raising millions auctioning off part of the borough’s unique Riesco Chinese art collection, which is among London’s finest antiques.
Faced with budget cuts, the council decided in June this year to sell the most valuable of the 230-piece collection, to fund part of the £27 million refurbishment plan of the Fairfield Halls.
The sale of 24 selected items, which could raise an estimated £9 – £14m, is set to take place in Hong Kong on November 27.
Local campaigners have applied for a judicial review to stop the council’s plans; if the High Court accepts this, it will effectively postpone the auction and an initial hearing could take place as early as next week.
Filed by Charlotte Davies, Head of the South Croydon Community Association, the application is the first step in a legal process that will cost an estimated £20,000. With support from the Museum Association, the Croydon Labour party and many others, campaigners have raised the first £10,000 through local donations.
Davies said: “The Council knows very well that any receipts will go straight into its general fund, with no guarantees whatsoever as to how that money is used in the future. The group opposing the Riesco sale is behaving as responsible citizens safeguarding Croydon’s assets on behalf of the whole community.”
The Riesco collection was originally 650 pieces donated to the council by local collector and businessman, Raymond Riesco, in 1964. Two larger parts were sold in 1970 and 1984, reducing the current collection to 230 items.
Riesco’s great granddaughter, Jaqueline Wendleken, has also publically opposed the Council’s decision by signing an online petition to prevent the action, which currently has 884 signatures.
According to Conservative councillor Tim Pollard, every pound made from the sale will be reinvested in what he calls “an urgent refurbishment to secure the future of one of Croydon’s most important cultural venues”.
He said: “The ordinary people of Croydon do not benefit from highly expensive antiques that we currently cannot display without spending a substantial amount on upgrading the security of the Riesco Gallery. Fairfield Halls is in urgent need of refurbishment and caters to a much wider audience.
“Basically the people opposing to the sale of the items will quite possibly be jeopardizing the future of Fairfield Halls.”
Christie’s Auction House have been appointed to sell the Riesco pieces, and have already obtained a permanent export license to send the collection abroad, in what the Museum Association calls ‘a surprisingly’ fast approval. Croydon Council resigned from the association earlier this year, faced with disciplinary action for their decision to sell the Riesco ceramics.
To sign the Stop the sale of the Riesco Collection petition click here.