Leading article: Art for whose sake?

Share
Related Topics

The Duke of Sutherland's decision to sell off his collection of old masters will set in motion the biggest fundraising effort in Britain's public gallery sector since the National Gallery set about acquiring The Madonna of the Pinks six years ago. London's National Gallery is involved again, along with the National Galleries of Scotland. They have joined forces in an effort to buy two sublime works by Titian for £100m.

But should the Government get involved and use public money to help acquire the works for the nation? It is a more finely balanced argument than many cheerleaders for the acquisition are prepared to admit. We should not underestimate the inspirational power of great art in national collections. Hundreds of thousands of Britons have been able to enjoy these two paintings for free because they have been on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland. It would be a grave loss indeed if future generations were to be denied that opportunity. And, unlike The Madonna of the Pinks, the Titians in question are indisputably first-rate examples of the artist's work.

Yet there are also counter-arguments to using public money in this way. One is that great art moves around the world much more than ever. "Blockbuster" shows, themed around a single master's work, are greatly in vogue among the world's premier galleries and museums. There is a growing likelihood that great works sold abroad will come back on tour at some stage. There is also something distasteful about a wealthy aristocrat such as the Duke of Sutherland effectively forcing the taxpayer to stump up millions for such works; especially as their market value has often been vastly boosted by their long-term display in public galleries. The duke claims these two works are being offered to the nation for considerably less than he could expect on the open market. But when one considers the tax he would have to pay if he sold them to a private bidder, the offer begins to look rather less generous.

In the end, the outcome of this appeal will depend largely on how much cash can be extracted from the heritage charity sector. The Treasury is not going to stump up all the cash on its own. But ministers might look at whether the tax regime might be further reformed to make it less easy (or desirable) for the holders of these great collections periodically to hold the nation to ransom in the name of art.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

Guy Keleny
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?