Letter: Gainsborough loss

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith's article endorsing Marlborough College's decision to sell its painting by Thomas Gainsborough is both misguided and damaging (Comment, 26 April).

Mr Whittam Smith justifies his largesse with our cultural heritage by asserting that "Britain possesses a greater treasure of art works than any country in the world, with the possible exception of the United States". While it is true that the National Gallery houses a very fine collection, there are nevertheless significant omissions which become very apparent if we compare the National with the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid. We simply cannot afford to be complacent.

Christie's estimates that the picture is worth between pounds 3m and pounds 5m, and although this is a relatively modest sum by today's inflated standards it is still beyond the acquisition budget of the Tate Gallery. As the national gallery of British art, the Tate is without doubt the most appropriate home for Gainsborough's wonderful group portrait.

Surely it is right for our national institutions to display our native school of art in the most comprehensive and favourable manner possible. This can only be achieved through judicious acquisitions of the finest examples of British art, as and when they come up for sale.

It is precisely because we do not enjoy a plethora of fine examples of Gainsborough's work in public collections in this country that the Marlborough Gainsborough should remain in Britain.


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