Inheritance tax swap saves £13m of art for Britain

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The Independent Online

Among the treasures acquired in the past 12 months is a drawing by the 18th-century artist Sir Joshua Reynolds of Cupid and Psyche worth £420,000 that will now grace the Courtauld Gallery in London.

Other highlights are three works by William Blake, including a pencil drawing of Isaac Newton which is the only known preparatory study for arguably Blake's most famous art work.

The annual report of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme (AIL) shows that several hundred items in 28 lots were accepted for display in public collections. This is less than last year, when £21m worth of items were saved, prompting calls from art campaigners for other tax breaks to encourage gifts of art and heritage from the living.

Mark Wood, the chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) which administers AIL, said: "There is a chronic shortage of funding for acquisitions in this country and the MLA urges the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury to build on the good work of AIL in creating a more favourable tax regime to encourage individual and corporate giving."

The artefacts accepted in the past year include a still life with lemons and oranges by the 18th-century Spanish artist Luis Melendez, one of Europe's great still life painters. It has settled more than £1m in tax and is only the third Melendez to go into a British public collection, the National Gallery.

A selection of Italian paintings from Longleat, the great country estate in Wiltshire, has been accepted in lieu of tax worth more than £3m, while the Holburne Museum in Bath is to receive an 18th-century cabinet that had been held in a private collection in Gloucestershire for 300 years.

Other items this year include art by the abstract painter Ben Nicholson, Georges Seurat, George Romney and probably the last painting by the British surrealist Christopher Wood before he committed suicide.

There were also papers from the time of Henry I, other papers belonging to the 20th-century English poet Kathleen Raine and a selection of 17th- and 18th-century costumes.

Mr Wood said 140 offers worth £140m had been accepted since 2000. " The range of objects is breathtaking, from an ancient Egyptian bronze to 20th-century political archives," he said.

However, the issue of further tax breaks for art and heritage moved further up the political agenda this week when the National Art Collections Fund presented the Treasury with a detailed proposal on how to encourage more giving after more than a year of discussions on the issue.

Alison Cole, of the National Art Collections Fund, said it was recommending a new relief against income tax for gifts of cultural assets, whether paintings or dinosaur bones. Any offers would be assessed independently, as with AIL.

Ms Cole said: "Museums need to collect to stay alive. If collections don't grow, they lose the ability to excite people. But the national museums and galleries are finding it difficult and the regionals are finding it almost impossible."

Since 1993, when the ring-fencing for acquisitions for national museums ended, the purchasing power of the major institutions has fallen by 90 per cent. At the same time, market prices have risen by as much as 600 per cent for certain works of art.