Letter: The fine art of double standards

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The Independent Online
Sir: In his letter (10 March) Sir Hugh Leggatt pertinently draws attention to the Government's failure to do anything to discourage sales of works of art donated to public institutions. One wonders whether it has yet understood the fundamental contradiction inherent in its policy of inviting generosity from the present while condoning the betrayal of that of the past.

In a recent report in the Independent on Sunday (28 February) some disquieting obiter dicta were recorded of a leading luminary in the National Heritage Department. It transpired that while the Government was not overtly (my italics) encouraging university sales, it saw no difference between their collections and private ones, and proceeded:

The only way the Government would ever get involved with a university sale is if the art export committee were to delay the granting of a licence.

This could be taken by the unversed to imply that the Government might at any rate take steps to retain in this country the relevant works of art, once sold. However, that remains very far indeed from being the case, because special funds for such purchases would not be made available by the Treasury.

Surely the raison d'etre of the grandly named Department of National Heritage is to be seen to be aware of, and to be attempting seriously to address, the pressing problems of our cultural inheritance - and not being so concerned to avoid them.

Yours faithfully

DENIS MAHON

London, SW1

10 March

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