2m pounds needed to keep Old Master in Britain

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UNLESS a serious bid is made by 1 July, a major Old Master painting will leave Britain, writes Dalya Alberge. Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, has deferred a decision on the export of David with the Head of Goliath by Guido Reni, 1630. Public collections must find pounds 2m to save it for the nation.

It is unlikely that they will - even though the work was painted at the height of the Italian's powers, and was important enough for the National Gallery in London to display it from 1986 to 1991. It has also been exhibited at the National Gallery, Washington, and the Metropolitan, New York.

But the National Gallery in London has spent its budget for the next two years; and the National Gallery in Edinburgh has 'various demands' on its finances, according to one source - 'though it's a fantastic picture'.

This is not the first chance the galleries have had to acquire the Reni. They have been approached privately, and it has twice been on the open market: it came up at Sotheby's in 1985, and was sold for pounds 2.2m. It returned to Sotheby's last July with a pounds 3m estimate. Bidding stopped at pounds 1.25m.

Sir Nicholas Goodison, chairman of the National Art Collections Fund, said: 'It's sad if it goes. If it does, it will be another example of British public collections and funding bodies not being able to produce the necessary money every time.'

Mr Brooke's department would not reveal whether the picture was being taken abroad to be sold.