The artist Tracey Emin visited Downing Street yesterday to deliver a letter signed by Lucian Freud, Antony Gormley, David Hockney and 37 other artists urging the Prime Minister to help raise the £50m needed to save a Renaissance painting for the nation – or face "embarrassment" if the masterpiece is sold abroad.
The letter suggested that the Government should help provide some of the funds needed to buy Titian's Diana and Actaeon by the end of next month, as well as Diana and Callisto, which will also be sold in three years unless a further £50m is raised.
The Italian Renaissance painter created these works for Philip II of Spain as part of a series of seven, depicting scenes from Ovid's epic poem Metamorphoses. Emin said she found no reason for the Government's lack of assistance since the price was a "bargain". She said: "It will be really embarrassing if the Government doesn't buy them and they are bought by some Russian oligarch and never seen again.
"We are building an Olympics that we can't afford and can't maintain afterwards. This country seems hell-bent on supporting a war which is so ugly ... Why can't we celebrate things that are really beautiful?"
The Independent has learnt that the Scottish Government has already pledged an undisclosed financial contribution to the campaign, while Gormley and his wife, Vikran, who is also an artist, have offered a financial donation.
The Titian paintings are being sold by their owner, the Duke of Sutherland, who has given the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS) until the end of the year to raise his reduced fee of £50m for one of the two paintings – which are estimated to be jointly worth £300m on the open market. The paintings have been on public display for more than 200 years.
The letter stated the importance of art to the public in times of economic recession: "The paintings, which are among the finest works in private hands in the world, have been in Britain for more than two centuries on continuous public view at the National Gallery of Scotland since the collection was placed there in 1945, inspiring generations of visitors. We also believe that in challenging times, the heritage of the past and the art of the present are more important than ever."
However, the Treasury stands to make more money if the painting is sold on the open market – as much as £80m from tax.Reuse content