Lost: Taxpayers' art treasures

Government admits mislaying 67 paintings acquired for the nation.
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The Independent Culture

More than 100 works of art, paid for by UK taxpayers, have been lost, stolen or damaged while adorning government buildings.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that 67 paintings plus other items – some worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – have disappeared from offices and residences in the UK and around the world in the past 10 years.

More than 40 have never been seen again, despite investigations by police and Government officials. Between last May and December alone six pieces disappeared from official addresses in Belfast, London, Mauritius and Berlin. None have been found. Incredibly, a third of the items reported missing have turned up in the same departments, often years later. A further 42 works have been so badly damaged that they have had to be restored.

The art was lent to Whitehall and embassies from the Government Art Collection (GAC), which owns some 13,500 works. The Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, was criticised last month for earmarking more than £100,000 this financial year for more purchases.

An inventory of the losses, obtained by the IoS, shows the Foreign Office was responsible for the majority. The most notorious – and expensive – was the theft of four paintings with a total value of £240,000 from the British ambassador's temporary residence in Buenos Aires in 2001. The items, including Offering to Jupiter by Michael Rocca, and St James's Park and Banqueting House by Anthony Highmore, were never recovered.

An FCO spokesman said that two-thirds of the GAC is on display in more than 400 buildings. He added: "Even with training for relevant staff, it is not possible to police all of these individually on a continual basis."