Danny Boyle and co's open letter might have saved a £20m Moore sculpture, but other works are being lost to public view thanks to money-minded local officialdom
I was at the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition in Tate Britain last night.
Its star is undoubtedly John Everett Millais.
His eerie, sexy surrealist masterpiece Ophelia is the best painting in the show.
Bolton council couldn't give a monkey's.
Millais is, in this council's eyes, not a national treasure to be safeguarded for future generations but an asset to be sold off.
Don't bother writing a letter to the Observer.
This week, art lovers including Danny Boyle and the director of the Tate signed a letter to the Sunday paper protesting against plans by Tower Hamlets council to sell a sculpture by Henry Moore that might fetch £20m in today's booming art market.
Now the Museum of London is offering to give it a home.
But it's too late to protest about the Millais sell-off.
Whatever pressures are now being applied by the cultural elite to stop Tower Hamlets selling its Moore were not in place when Bolton council decided to flog its Millais painting last year.
In July 2011 the council got £74,000 for A Somnambulist – a figure beneath the auctioneer's estimate, and a sum that cannot possibly have made any serious difference to Bolton's finances or plans for a new city art store.
Part of the public art heritage was lost for no good reason.
It's great that people want to protect Henry Moore from the tender mercies of the art market (Tower Hamlets claims it is selling the work because it cannot look after it, and that the move has nothing to do with Moore's high prices).
But this is not an isolated story.
It is a national problem that needs to be addressed in an explicit, logical way.
In Derby, as I have previously reported, there was a debate this summer about flogging the city's unique collection of paintings by that great artist of science and wonder, Joseph Wright.
It looks as if the creation of a museum trust in Derby may lead to the city taking more pride in its collection – but in every city in Britain with a council art collection, comparable pressures apply.
Cuts in public services are happening every day.
Meanwhile, art prices keep going up.
You can see the temptation, imagine the rhetoric – shouldn't we sell that poncy painting if it can keep a library open?
It sounds like a good case – but it doesn't work.
Most works of art in local collections are like the Millais that Bolton got rid of: important, historic, even beautiful, but unlikely to fetch the millions that might impact on a council budget.
No – the real local value of art lies in regenerating cities.
This is what Derby may be realising.
The debate about selling its Joseph Wrights came after a long period when the city's neglect of its famous son was nothing short of bizarre.
Now it looks as if Derby is going to try and make something of its connection with a great artist.
It's obvious that a Joseph Wright museum in the city would be a real asset.
And it wouldn't bring a tongue-lashing from Danny Boyle.
Henry MooreSculpturePaintingArtDanny BoyleBoltonDerbyLondonJonathan Jonesguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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