Artistic treasures totalling £50m in value and including works by Raphael and John Lennon are heading to public collections across Britain following the "best year" for donations of important works.
The Government has accepted gifts of significant cultural, scientific or historic objects to offset inheritance tax for over a century through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, brought in by David Lloyd George in 1910 while he was Prime Minister.
This year's haul includes Raphael's drawing of Ajax and Cassandra discovered at Knole in Kent in 1987 - which is now in the posession of the British Library but too delicate to display - together with a sheet of lyrics by John Lennon donated by the writer Hunter Davies.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of the Arts Council, said the process had bought treasures with "an unprecedented commercial value into the national collections" in the past year. "If their sale had been on the open market, these works of art might have been lost to us forever," he said. Another work included is a portrait of John Ruskin, painted by John Millais, which scandalised the 19th century art world, and the Hamilton-Rothschild tazza, a chalice made of a sardonyx bowl on a gold holder, disappeared for more than a century.
The record value of works handed to public institutions around the UK, worth £49.4m, is published today by Arts Council England in its annual report on the objects accepted in the last financial year.
Gerry McQuillan, senior advisor on acquisitions, exports and loans at the Arts Council, said: "This was the best year we've ever had. We've never been anywhere near £50m in the past. Last year was previously the highest at £31m."
"Works like these going on display to the public make our museums so attractive and such a rich experience for tourism. We're getting the message through to the treasury that this is money well spent," he added.
This year's report includes the work taken in under the new Cultural gifts scheme for the first time, a scheme that allows tax to be offset in the donor's lifetime.
Notable works brought in previously under the original scheme include Weeping Woman by Picasso and John Constable's Stratford Mill.
Mr McQuillan said: "Who knows what that Picasso would cost now, especially in the light of the Francis Bacon sale this week. The Picasso settled £4m of tax at the time. Looking back at what we accepted 20 years ago, they weren't cheap at the time, but if you wanted to buy them now it would cost so much more."