Economics Museums United Kingdom

England’s record £8.6bn loans

Fourfold increase in value of indemnified art borrowed—and nearly all of it returned safely

Poland’s finest: Lady with an Ermine on show at London’s National Gallery

Museums and galleries in England borrowed art indemnified by the government worth a record £8.6bn last year—a fourfold increase over the past 15 years. Without this support, most venues would find it difficult to mount exhibitions with extremely high value loans; if the galleries that benefited from indemnity had taken out commercial insurance, it would have cost a total of more than £20m.

The increase mainly reflects the rise in prices on the art market, particularly for major works. However, the number of venues has also increased, largely due to new National Lottery-funded buildings, such as Tate Modern. Works lent to national museums accounted for 75% of the £8.6bn; loans to other venues made up the rest.

We have obtained the first detailed data on the UK’s Government Indemnity Scheme, which is administered by the Arts Council in England and by the respective governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme covers art loaned from the UK and abroad, for both temporary exhibitions and long-term loans. (Loans from national museums to other UK museums are not covered, since the rationale is that the works belong to the nation and it would be inappropriate to use taxpayers’ money to indemnify them.) Indemnity covers conservation (in the event of damage) and replacement value (in the event of loss, through theft or fire).

Among the exhibitions in the past financial year that pushed up the figure was the National Gallery’s “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” (9 November 2011-5 February 2012).

Although only eight paintings by Leonardo were borrowed (plus works by other artists), the works were all extremely valuable.

Another show that was only viable with indemnity was the Royal Academy’s “The Real Van Gogh” in 2010. Although the value of the loans is confidential, they are likely to have been worth nearly £2bn. Without indemnity, commercial insurance would have cost the academy around £6m. Given the exhibition was seen by around 411,000 visitors, this would have worked out at £15 a head. Standard admission was £12, so insurance costs would have more than doubled the ticket price to £27.

We have also obtained data on indemnity payouts. In the 14 years up to 2010/11, there were 28 claims on behalf of lenders (an average of two a year), totalling £303,000 (an average of £10,800 each). These were all for conservation repairs, and not a single indemnified work was stolen.

Last year, there were two claims, totalling £236,000. One was for a minor item, but the other was for damage to Miró’s Painting on White background for the Cell of a Recluse I, 1968, on loan to London’s Tate Modern (see related story, link above).

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