A gift with strings attached: £100m Baroque paintings donated to UK... but they must remain free to see

 

One of the greatest collections of Italian Baroque paintings in the world has been gifted to museums and galleries across Britain – but the works will be withdrawn if the institutions ever charge the public to see them.

The private collection of Sir Denis Mahon, the philanthropist and passionate campaigner for free entry to public museums, has been given as a permanent bequest to British galleries, in accordance with his wishes.

Sir Denis, an heir to the Guinness Mahon banking fortune, began collecting Italian baroque paintings in the 1930s, purchasing the then unfashionable works for £100-200.

By the time of the art historian’s death in 2011, aged 100, he had amassed a collection of masterpieces worth an estimated £100 million.

The Art Fund charity announced that it has now completed the transfer of 57 Italian Baroque paintings from Sir Denis’s collection, including masterpieces by Guercino, Guido Reni, Domenichino and Ludovico Carracci, to the permanent collections of six UK museums and galleries.

The National Gallery will take control of 25 works; 12 belong to the Ashmolean, Oxford; eight to the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, six to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, five to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and one to Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

But the Art Fund said the works had been permanently transferred with the stipulation, reflecting Sir Denis’ principles, that the museums must not charge the public for admission or sell the works from their collections.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund Director, said: “Sir Denis shared our fundamental commitment to widening free public access to art. These works are being transferred under specific conditions which include the right to their withdrawal if a museum introduces admission charges.

“We would look at the individual circumstances, it could happen next year or in 600 years but we would make a judgement over whether withdrawal was the correct way of proceeding.”

The commitment is timely since some institutions fear that free admission for national museums and galleries, introduced by the Labour government in 2001, could be threatened by cuts.

Sir Denis, who turned his back on a career in banking to pursue his passion for art, had been an active member of the Art Fund for 84 years.

Nicholas Penny, Director, National Gallery, called the collector a “hyperactive trustee and exacting friend of many curators” who “did much to urge us to acquire great Baroque paintings.”

Mahon would regularly phone arts ministers, urging them not starve museums of their funding or interfere with their independence. It was a sign of the respect in which he was held that his calls were always taken.

Sir Denis began collecting Italian Baroque works when important paintings could be bought for relatively small sums. He never spent more than the £2,000 he invested in Guercino’s Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, purchased in 1953 and which hangs in the National Gallery. By the early 70s, the importance of the artists Sir Denis championed was universally recognised, partly because of his own advocacy of their works.

In addition to the 57 bequeathed works, Sir Denis has also left a £1 million legacy to the Art Fund. He also gave the Ashmolean a set of 50 works associated with Guercino.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf