Acquisitions United Kingdom

Titians stop Penny spending

Duke of Sutherland’s pictures are national galleries’ priority

Nicholas Penny, left, and John Leighton, the heads of London’s National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland respectively, with their joint acquisition Diana and Actaeon

The National Gallery (NG) has stopped buying paintings in order to acquire the Duke of Sutherland’s two Titian masterpieces—a situation that could continue into 2016, after the second Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-59, is bought. “The Titians are our greatest priority, now and in the future,” says a spokeswoman for the gallery. “This might mean sacrifices, but they are ones we are prepared to make.”

Since it decided to acquire Diana and Actaeon, 1556-59, in 2008, the NG has bought only Guercino’s Elijah fed by Ravens, 1620, and The Cumaean Sibyl with a Putto, 1651, which came from Denis Mahon under phased-payment arrangements agreed many years ago.

Other acquisitions have been made through gifts, such as Telemaco Signorini’s Sketch for Straw Weavers at Settignano, about 1880, and Peder Balke’s The Tempest, about 1862 (valued at £35,000). Bosschaert the Elder’s A Still Life of Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase, 1609-10, was acquired under an acceptance-in-lieu arrangement (settling £1.7m of tax).

When Nicholas Penny became the gallery’s director, he said that it “should fill more gaps” in its 19th-century holdings, “particularly American paintings” (The Art Newspaper, April 2008, p16). The Signorini and Balke works are European, and relatively modest pieces. In his introduction to the gallery’s most recent annual review, Penny admits that, when it comes to acquisitions, the “waters may seem still”.

Similarly, the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), which is jointly involved in the Titian acquisitions, has made no really major purchases since 2008. However, its collecting brief is much wider than that of the NG (it includes works on paper, Scottish art, and modern and contemporary works), and it has continued to buy less expensive items and to support the Anthony d’Offay-donated Artist Rooms.

Diana and Actaeon is being bought jointly for £50m by the London and Edinburgh museums, with payments spread over three years. Detailed negotiations began in 2008 and the deal was signed in February 2009. Plans are now being made for the purchase of its pendant, Diana and Callisto.

The NG is fortunate in having the late Paul Getty’s endowment, which is used primarily for acquisitions. With all the gallery’s efforts focused on the Titians, income from the endowment is expected to provide a major contribution towards Diana and Callisto. The NG and the NGS have until December 2012 to take up the option to buy the work jointly. Payment terms have not been finalised, but, based on the precedent set by Diana and Actaeon, the work will cost around £50m, spread over three years (until the end of 2015).

For the first Titian, the National Heritage Memorial Fund is providing a total of £10m. Its annual grant from the government has been halved, from £10m to £5m, so it is very unlikely to be as generous over the second painting. The Art Fund provided £1m for the first Titian and will probably support the second. The Scottish government will not be making a contribution, it has announced.

Next year will be a “Titian year” at the NG. The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is lending the artist’s The Flight into Egypt, 1509-10, following conservation—the first time the work has left Russia since 1768. It will form the centrepiece of a Sunley Room exhibition on “Titian’s First Masterpiece” (4 April-2 September 2012).

Diana and Actaeon is due to tour to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, and the National Museum Cardiff. It will return for a major show, “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” (11 July-23 September 2012), in which the two Sutherland Titians will be shown alongside contemporary works inspired by them.

Masterpieces that got away

Poussin’s The Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter), 1636-42, was sold by the Duke of Rutland to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth for around £15m in September, following its failure to sell at Christie’s last December. The picture had been on loan since 2003 to the NG, which would have liked to acquire it. The “Sacraments” have now been further split up (one was destroyed by fire in 1816 and another sold in 1946).

Van Dyck’s Self-Portrait, 1640, was sold by the Earl of Jersey for £8.3m at Sotheby’s in 2009. It was bought by Milwaukee-based collector-dealer Alfred Bader, with dealer Philip Mould. The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate failed to raise the funds (£9m to £10m). Had it not been for the Titians, the NG might have considered going for the Van Dyck, which is still on the market.

Turner’s Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino, 1839, was sold by the Earl of Rosebery in 2010. It was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum for £30.3m and went on display last March. Although the NG has ten Turners, it would have been a significant addition. (The Tate has an unparalleled Turner collection, however.)

Watteau’s La Surprise, 1716-19, a rediscovery, was sold at Christie’s in 2008 and resold earlier this year. An export licence was deferred until 6 September, with the picture valued at £17.5m, but no UK buyer made a matching offer. The NG has only one Watteau and it would have been an appropriate acquisition.

Guardi’s Venice, A View of the Rialto Bridge, Looking North, from the Fondamenta del Carbon, around 1768, was sold by the estate of Baron Kelvedon at Sotheby’s on 6 July. It went for £26.7m to an unidentified overseas collector. An export licence has been deferred until 16 January 2012. The NG has 22 Guardis and is unlikely to try to acquire the work.

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10 Nov 11
16:22 CET


The National Gallery has only one Watteau. True. It could have had more quite cheaply years ago, but failed to take an interest. Anyhow, why should it have more? Why must museums expand endlessly? The break up of the series of Poussin Sacraments is indeed sad. As for Turner, in 1916, when the Sutherland Titians were threatened with sale, the National Gallery planned to sell a large part of the Turner Bequest to pay for them. No doubt some would advocate doing that today.

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