The clock is ticking on two of Britain’s most important paintings and $200 million (£100million) must be found from the public purse by 1st January, 2009 to keep them.
Together valued at $600 million (£300million) on the open market and owned by the Duke of Sutherland, the Titian masterpieces are currently on display in the National Gallery of Scotland. They form part of a 27 piece ‘Old Masters’ collection held by the Duke, estimated in total to be worth over $2 billion (£1billion).
The Duke has decided to put these paintings up for sale in an attempt to broaden his investment portfolio, initially offering them to the National Gallery, where they have been displayed since 1945, at a significantly discounted rate.
Titian’s ‘Diana & Actaeon’ (pictured at top) and ‘Diana & Callisto’ (pictured below) have each been priced at $100 million (£50million) with the first installment due on New Year’s Day 2009. Further payments would then be made at regular intervals until completion in 2015.
It’s understood that the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham has applied to the Treasury for an emergency grant somewhere in the region of ten to twenty million pounds to help finance this purchase. A further $180 million (£90million) is hoped to be raised by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and via private donations.
If funds are found and a sale is agreed the Titians would represent the most expensive pieces of art ever purchased for the UK’s public collection. Until now Raphael’s ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ held this title after its $44 million (£22million) sale in 2004.
However, should the bid fail, Britain’s art collection has a lot to lose. Only the successful sale of the Titians to the National Gallery will extend the loan of the remaining 25 Bridgewater masterpieces, which among others contains works by Rembrant, Poussin and Raphael, for a further 21 years.
Only time will tell whether the Chancellor sees these valuable paintings as a worthwhile investment at such an economically unstable time. Whatever his decision it’s likely to be a controversial one when so many other avenues are crying out for public funding.