What a treasure; VISUAL ARTS Treasures for Everyone Christie's, London

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The Independent Culture
The National Art Collections Fund is an important institution, increasingly so in these days of shrinking funding and cuts in the public purse. Each year it seems there is less government help available to our national and regional museums and more pressure on them to find their spending money elsewhere. Cash from the lottery is a sweetener, but the Heritage Lottery Fund who administer it can only consider requests that have already secured partial funding and without the NACF many worthy applications simply wouldn't get started.

The NACF was founded in 1903 and has been doing good deeds ever since. In 1905, it orchestrated a successful campaign to buy Velasquez's Rokeby Venus for a staggering pounds 45,000, nine times the National Gallery's then annual budget; and in 1995 alone it handed out a total of pounds 2.73m to museums across the country. "Treasures for Everyone", at Christie's until the end of the month, is a selective glimpse of what the fund has been up to in the past 15 years. It is a fantastic exhibition, brilliantly selected and beautifully displayed.

As an exhibition in the usual sense it doesn't really make sense, but such is the quality and range of work that it doesn't need to. There are 150 disparate exhibits with two things in common: firstly the NACF helped save them for the nation, secondly the exhibits are almost all the best of their kind. It is a captivating selection.

The exhibition is also a reminder of the diverse strengths of our public collections and gives encouragement to look at some of these now familiar treasures with fresh eyes. One of many highlights is a little wooden figure of a squatting man from the Congo. It has been on loan to the British Museum since 1950, but was only bought for the collection last year. Removed from its usual anthropological context, the figure looks the equal of anything here and, next to a contemporary carving by Baselitz, the pounds 40,000 that the fund donated to the figure's pounds 100,000 cost looks like money well spent.

Other highlights (and this is a purely personal selection of some of the things that I'd like to steal) include: a tiny painting by Vuillard that belongs to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; the lintel from an Egyptian temple discovered in a Hampshire garden and acquired by the British Museum in 1995; a stone mask by Henry Moore that is now in the Tate; a pair of curiously muted but utterly beautiful paintings by Howard Hodgkin bought by Norwich Castle in 1991; and a Charles Rennie Mackintosh table, more a piece of sculpture than furniture, that has now been returned to the room in Hill House for which it was originally designed.

Some of the fund's donations are large and glamorous (pounds 500,000 to help Manchester City Art Gallery become the owner of a crucifixion attributed to Duccio), some aren't (pounds 85 to buy a teapot for Norwich Castle), but all have been carefully thought out, vetted and approved. On the evidence of this exhibition, the NACF is an institution that deserves support. The annual membership fee is pounds 25: if you care about the state of our national collections, it's a very worthy investment.

To 26 Jan. Mon-Fri, 10-4.30pm. Sat-Sun, 12-4pm. For further information call 0171-839 9060

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