Letter: Integral works in an art collection

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The Independent Online
Sir: In his letter on the sale of pictures from Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (29 September), Richard Fries, the Chief Charity Commissioner, argues that the case for and against selling a Turner, a Gainsborough and a Constable was carefully considered. In particular, he claims that 'expert evidence' showed that 'the three paintings are not of a piece with the remainder of the collection'.

It would be interesting to know what 'expert advice' was taken. The Tate Gallery is the National Collection of British Art and its Keeper of British Art is the specialist adviser to government on pictures by British artists. He was not consulted by the Charity Commission. The Tate Gallery has nevertheless made its views known, both to the Commission and to the college. They are that the Turner, the Gainsborough and the Constable are most assuredly integral to the collection - indeed that Holloway himself would have regarded these works as its greatest 'stars'.

High Victorian taste would be unthinkable without the achievement of these especially admired figures. Turner lived 14 years into Victoria's reign, and she was on the throne when he painted Holloway's picture. As for Gainsborough and Constable, they are not the only earlier masters represented in the collection. They just happen to be the most valuable. It is worth adding that the college now runs a course on 19th-century art. Its effectiveness would be greatly reduced by the arbitrary removal of such seminal works.

In the light of these considerations, it seems strange that the Charity Commissioners should see the case as being entirely one-sided. Indeed, their earlier refusal to grant consent to the sale would suggest that at some point the matter was seen differently.

Yours faithfully,

NICHOLAS SEROTA

Director

Tate Gallery

London, SW1

29 September

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