Benefactor in spat over Old Masters

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The Independent Online
Sir Denis Mahon, the octogenarian benefactor, is to withdraw three Old Masters from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool after the decision by the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside to impose admission charges.

The decision was a rebuff for the Government, which is reviewing museum charges, and has declared opposition to them. It is also a rebuff to Sir Denis (pictured), who left the Walker three Renaissance paintings on condition they maintained free admission. Sir Denis, 86, said he would withdraw his bequest. The paintings will now probably go to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Richard Foster, director of the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, said: "The people who will suffer from this are the schoolchildren of Merseyside." The cost of a season ticket for all eight galleries on Merseyside would only be pounds 3 a year. The season ticket (pounds 7.50 for a family) is expected to bring the Merseyside museums pounds 400,000 in 1997-98.

But Sir Denis said it was a matter of principle that his collection should go to museums that are free. The Heritage Secretary, Chris Smith, and Tony Blair oppose admission charges for national museums. Mr Smith had asked the National Galleries on Merseyside to defer charges until October to await a Heritage Department report on charging and the outcome of his attempts to plug the funding gap.

Mr Foster said the trustees had decided there was no alternative, after three years of diminishing government grant, but to attract income from "a moderate extension of admission charges".

The trustees said: "Mr Smith could not guarantee NMGM any compensation for loss of income and other costs. As he has recognised, the trustees have a fiduciary duty to balance the books."

The paintings being withdrawn are: Guercino's St John The Baptist Visited In Prison By Salome; Giordano's Venus, Mars And The Forge Of Vulcan; and Pier Francisco Mola's Landscape With St Bruno In Ecstasy.