02/28/2014 07:39 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Beaverbrook gallery painting dispute finally settled

A decade-long legal saga that played out between Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery and the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation has finally ended, and the paintings in dispute will remain at the New Brunswick gallery.

At issue were 78 works of art worth millions of dollars that arrived at the gallery in the 1950s and 1960s. The foundation argued it owned the pieces and loaned them to the gallery; the gallery maintained Lord Beaverbrook, also known as William Maxwell Aitken, gave the works as gifts.

The dispute has been weaving in and out of court, including one ruling by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that said Lord Beaverbrook’s grandson would not have to testify at trial.

The legal dispute has been resolved, however, and under a settlement announced Friday, the gallery will get 35 of the pieces and the foundation will get 45.

All the paintings, which include two portraits by Salvador Dali, will remain at the gallery. The paintings owned by the foundation will be on long-term loan.

"Certainly the dispute over the 10 years has taken a lot of time, a lot of toll and expense," gallery director Terry Graff said Friday.

"And this frees us to concentrate more and focus more on programming and more opportunities for the community and visual artists … and how we're going to develop and grow and become a better and stronger organization."

Deal finalized over coffee and muffins

Foundation chair Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook’s great-grandson, will join the board of the gallery. Aitken was in Fredericton Friday to put the finishing touches on the settlement agreement.

It had been worked on for months, but Aitken and gallery board chair Allison McCain finalized the deal Friday over coffee and muffins.

"The legal dispute is now at an end and we wish the gallery success in the future and hope that the paintings in the gallery will continue to be made available to as wide a public as possible," Aitken said in a statement.

McCain said she is also pleased to see the dispute end.

"The gallery board had a fiduciary obligation to determine its right with respect to the works in dispute," she said in a statement.

"Likewise, the foundation board had a similar responsibility. Both parties can now be satisfied that they have fulfilled their obligations with this agreement."

The ownership dispute revolved around documents from 1970 showing 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 argued the 1970 sale was based on a lie, because Lady Beaverbrook never actually owned the paintings. The gallery said it owned them all along, as per Lord Beaverbrook’s wishes.