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Laid bare: Aberdeen Council lost 385 artworks in a single day as hundreds remain missing

Aberdeen Art Gallery. Photo by Scott Baxter.

Aberdeen City Council has refused to estimate how much hundreds of publicly-owned artworks – currently unaccounted for – could be worth.

The local authority has revealed 1,195 items within the city’s huge collection of art is currently classed as “missing”.

Last January, 385 items were recorded as such in a single day – the worst day on record, including five works attributed to JMW Turner.

Archivists are already working to track down the treasure trove of pieces that have disappeared, some during the recently £34.6 million renovation of Aberdeen Art Gallery.

But now, officials are to compile an audit report on the missing items to be presented to councillors next year.

Reopening in 2019, collections were removed from the Victorian building to be stored at a ‘treasure hub’ in Northfield during the refurbishment.

However, details released under freedom of information legislation have revealed some objects appear to have fallen through the cracks during the move.

More than 90 items were listed as missing, with notes it was a “suspected administration error due to mass moves during art gallery decant”.

The author added the issue was “to be resolved”.

Nearly 200 more are logged as damaged and another 350+ in need of conservation.

Mariana, finished in 1870, by Dante Gabriel is part of the Aberdeen city art collection. It has been flagged as in need of conservation as it is mouldy.
Mariana, finished in 1870, by Dante Gabriel is part of the Aberdeen city art collection. It has been flagged as in need of conservation as it is mouldy.

See the full catalogue of the city’s collections down below.

AWOL pieces also include works George Washington Wilson, James McBey, John Bellany, William Williams, as well as an exact copy of Botticelli’s artwork for Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Going back decades, more than 70 missing items have been reported to the former Grampian Police force.

But the local authority remained tight-lipped on the value of the missing art, claiming it could put staff and their collections “at risk”.

It comes only months after the council was rocked by the discovery of protected granite from Union Terrace Gardens in a prominent businessman’s garden.

Police found no wrongdoing in the ‘Granite-gate’ scandal, while council officials have since confirmed nothing appears to be missing now it has all been brought back to a secure site.

Lost Aberdeen artwork: ‘Obviously concerning’

Liberal Democrat group leader on the council, Ian Yuill, said the list was “obviously concerning”.

Councillor Ian Yuill is concerned about Aberdeen's lost artwork.
Councillor Ian Yuill is concerned about Aberdeen’s lost artwork.

“The missing items need to be traced as soon as possible,” he added.

“Clearly it is also concerning that some of the items have been missing for years – and in some cases decades.

“The council owes it to Aberdonians to have a robust system to record all the artwork in its collections.

“There is a risk to the council’s reputation if significant pieces of artwork are lost or disappear and it is important it has system in place to make sure it does not happen.

“It is difficult to get, from the list, quite what many of the items are – whether they are prints or drawings or original plates. It is worrying though.

“It does not look good and it is important this is cleared up as soon as possible.

“If items have gone astray that needs to be followed up as well.”

A spokeswoman for the local authority revealed hopes, based on “previous experience”, that missing items are “likely elsewhere” on the premises.

Audits and internal communications are generally viewed to resolve “location queries”.

She told us: “We will continue to undertake extensive location control, including auditing collections, updating database locations accordingly and reconciling objects with their accession numbers if they’re disassociated.

“Officers spend time revisiting printed records to gather information on items that have been missing prior to the electronic record being created.

“Such information is often reliant on transcription from card index files and can often be unreliable as standards in record keeping have changed significantly since the 1920s (for example).

“Any suspected stolen item would be reported to the police for further investigation.

“We do not release information on the value of collections as it can place staff and collections at risk.”

A report on the missing items will be compiled for the council’s audit, risk and scrutiny committee, ahead of their meeting in February.

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