Letter: Mahon's gift

Sir: The marvellous news this week that Sir Denis Mahon has agreed to give the National Gallery 28 pictures from his celebrated collection is a great coup for the gallery.

Sir Denis's collection is particularly strong in paintings of the Italian Baroque period, including such masters as Guercino, Guido Reni and Domenichino. These pictures will undoubtedly plug gaps in the National's collection.

However, Sir Denis felt it necessary to stipulate that the pictures are on indefinite loan only. Upon his death, the paintings will pass to the National Art Collections Fund, which will act as guardian of the collection, and ensure that his wishes are upheld.

His passionately held belief is that access to our national collections should continue to be free of charge. Some time ago, when the introduction of admission charges to public collections was proposed, Sir Denis was one of the most eloquent opponents of this pernicious idea.

It would appear that Sir Denis and the trustees of the National Gallery have come to some accommodation. Nevertheless, Sir Denis is right to be cautious, because it is difficult to anticipate not only the future trends, fashions and policies of our national collections, but also politically expedient government directives. By making an independent organisation with clout, such as NACF, guardian of the collection, he has ensured that his pictures will be accessible to everyone regardless of their income.

By giving his wonderful collection to the nation, Sir Denis has performed a great public service. But if he has helped to keep access to our museums and art galleries free of charge, he will have carried out an even greater service to us all.

KEVIN DRISCOLL

London WC1

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