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The cost of art

Pauline McLean | 09:40 UK time, Friday, 29 August 2008

There's a sense of déjà vu about arriving in the National Galleries of Scotland this week.

The colour on the walls has changed a few times, the director general has moved on, but the paintings which dominate the ground floor gallery are the same, and so are the ownership issues.

Back in 2003 we were there for the successful handover of the Venus Rising, the glamorous Titian painting which the National Galleries of Scotland had bought for £11.6m.

It seemed to bring to an end, speculation about the fate of the collection following the death of the sixth Duke of Sutherland three years previously.

In the face of massive death duties, the new duke faced breaking up the collection for sale but in the end, thanks to the acquisition and some negotiation with HM Revenue and Customs, the collection stayed intact - all four Titians, three Raphaels, one Rembrandt and a room full of Poussin.

But the Bridgewater Collection - which has been in the Edinburgh gallery on the Mound since 1945 - is now worth a staggering £1bn and this year, the duke has decided to review his assets.

He could, of course sell off a lesser painting - and one which might cause far less concern to the UK government's strict export rules.

But he deliberately chose the Titians - Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto - as high profile paintings which will raise interest, and the necessary capital.

They are apparently worth three times their £50m asking price - although it's hard to imagine them ever coming on the open market (indeed the suggestion is that if the campaign is unsuccessful, the duke won't sell the Titians at all, but consider another sale.)

But for John Leighton, general director of the National Galleries of Scotland, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"I don't know if we can raise the money. We only have four months to do so but we will give it our best shot. The important thing is to make sure these works stay in the public domain - and if we have a chance to keep them then we will do what we can."

Already the Scottish Government has signalled its interest in contributing - although it hasn't yet decided how much.

And the whole campaign is being run jointly with the National Gallery in London, which if successful will share ownership of the paintings with the National Galleries of Scotland, with the works rotating between Edinburgh and London every seven years. (there is already a precedent in the Canova sculpture The Three Graces - which was bought in 1994 for £7.6m by both the V&A and NGS. It's currently in Edinburgh.)

And visitors today were keen to give their backing - among them, the artist Tracey Emin, whose retrospective is currently showing at the National Gallery of Modern Art.

"I read about it in the papers, which is sad that it should be such a big story,"she says.

"If every single person in the UK gave two pounds - the price of a packet of biscuits - they could buy this painting. It's not much and everyone can enjoy it."

Coming so soon after the massive campaign to buy the massive modern art collection built up by Antony D'Offay - £26.7m, and the Link Project (£34.3m in 2004) - and in the midst of a recession, it's hard to tell whether the British public will have the appetite for such a scheme.


  • Comment number 1.

    Tracey Emin, said
    "If every single person in the UK gave two pounds - the price of a packet of biscuits - they could buy this painting. It's not much and everyone can enjoy it."

    Well, I guess she buys expensive biscuits.

    But really, why should everyone in the UK contribute either by taxes or donations. Let those who enjoy art (and by and large can afford more biscuits) do it. Me, I'd rather have a hospital.

  • Comment number 2.

    Watching the Olympic games recently, I was truck by something;
    1.) 29 new world records set.
    Most of those seemed to occur in the swimming pool, where world records seem to fall with almost monotonous regularity. I mean, how do they do it. If they carry on at this rate they will be covering 1500 metres in the same time that it takes one to utter the words, “ready, set….and the winner is.” Michael Phelps, and Ian Thorpe before him, seemed to have been born with the express advantage of appearing to share the same characteristics of fish, and also the ability to swim faster than anyTHING before them. I mean Great Whites haven’t got shit on Phelps. This boy is quick. Now, lets take a moment to consider Usain Bolt. It’s probably fair to say that Bolt could probably outrun an Aston Martin. 9.69. These numbers should be etched into immortality…well, at least until he runs again and actually tries to run 100 yards rather than 75. His stride covers 8 feet. Poor old Richard Thompson (who was a distant second) covers a mortal 6 feet. So, actually Bolt only needs to maintain the same speed as his nearest rival and by sheer logistics will win by…well, you do the maths. But it’s a healthy margin. Two athletes, two men pre-conditioned 9 months before birth to be able to run faster, and swim faster than any before them. There undoubtedly will be others that go faster than either of these two magnificent athletes. But where will it end? Surely there exists a definitive speed beyond which the human body cannot exceed? Surely. If we carry on at this rate, and given that we still have roughly 4 billion years left before our sun burns out, and under the supposition that 100 metres will still be an Olympic event in, say, 27 million years time, with an additional supposition that we haven’t evolved to creatures with four legs, the 100 yard dash will be completed in say 3.5 seconds!! Outrageous, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. It all boils down to perspective. Have we reached, or are we nearing the apotheosis of human physical perfection? Are we approaching the point in which we, as we have evolved thus far, cannot go any farther? I guess the London Olympics will tell us a lot. Four years might be a blink when talking about human evolution, but it certainly will show us a little the evolution of Mssrs Bolt and Phelps. It goes beyond merely sport, the whole issue of our own opportunity to tread new ground, explore new territory applies to us all. David Bowie had it right, “We can be heroes…just for one day.”
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]



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