Lloyd Webber to leave his art collection to the nation

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The Independent Online

Lord Lloyd-Webber is to leave his priceless art collection in trust to the nation when he dies - together with sets and costumes from the musicals that earned him his millions.

The songwriter and impresario has unveiled plans to put his vast array of art works and theatrical memorabilia on public display after his death in a museum at Sydmonton Court, his sprawling country home in Berkshire.

Lloyd Webber makes his pledge publicly on television this week, on the eve of the opening of an exhibition of his Pre-Raphaelite and 20th-century masters at the Royal Academy. He details the scheme further in an interview with the latest edition of the London gallery's own magazine, in which he outlines plans for visitors to be ferried to his house in batches from a "staging post" by the nearby A34.

Lloyd Webber's philanthropic gesture will be especially welcomed by fans of Victorian art, as his Pre-Raphaelite collection is regarded as one of the world's finest. It includes one of only five oil paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in private hands and enough works by Sir Edward Burne-Jones to fill the RA's largest room.

Among the other highlights of the exhibition will be Picasso's Blue Period portrait, Angel Fernandez de Soto, famously bought by the peer for £18m, and Canaletto's The Old Horse Guards from St James's Park.

Lloyd Webber's extraordinary promise to leave his collection to posterity in his will is made as he gives Lord Bragg a guided tour of Sydmonton on a special edition on Friday of ITV1's The South Bank Show. Standing beside Richard Dadd's Contradiction: Oberon and Titania, a painting that is now so fragile he has been advised never to lend it out again, the 55-year-old peer says: "It will be eventually part of my whole plan to put my entire art collection, hopefully in situ, when I am dead ... on display."

In the RA magazine, he adds: "We've bought a site near Sydmonton, which could be a staging post. I think people would quite like to see the collection in the context of where I lived. That's my wish: to keep it in one place."

It is not just Lloyd Webber's art collection which will be put on public view after his death. The proposed displays will house props, sets and costumes from his most celebrated stage musicals, among them Cats, Starlight Express and The Phantom of the Opera. He is undecided about whether to charge the public for viewing the collection.

Lloyd Webber's new appetite for philanthropy has received an idiosyncratic welcome from Norman Rosenthal, the RA's exhibitions secretary. While describing the loaned artworks as looking "like the proverbial million dollars", he said of the peer: "He's like Charles Saatchi. Both of them are, in the nicest sense of the word, insecure about what they are doing. All great collectors have a touch of madness about them."

'Pre-Raphaelites and Other Masters: The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection' runs at the Royal Academy from 20 September until 12 December

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