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Italian Baroque paintings in the world has been gifted to museums and galleries across Britain – but the works will be withdrawn if the institutions ever charge the public to see them.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.
musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Video: Boxer Vido Loncar brutally assaults referee following defeat
Mike Read 'apologises unreservedly' for Ukip Calypso and withdraws it from sale
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991 with most Brits wanting to stay in'