Titian's Triumph of Love (above) will go on show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme
Iconic landscapes by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, four works chronicling the industrial history of Scotland by David Allan, letters from Lord Nelson and the archive of Nobel Peace Prize poet laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat were among items which came into public ownership this year under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.
The annual report for the government loophole, allowing Inheritance Tax debtors to pay their bill by offering important heritage objects to the nation, transferred 36 cases worth £19.8 million. According to the scheme's administrators, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), it represents the highest number of items for three years, writing off nearly £11 million in tax.
Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder's Flower Painting cost nearly £1.7 million
Highlights included a flower painting by Dutch artist Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, which will be given to a UK museum to exhibit for the first time after being acquired for nearly £1.7 million.
Titian's Triumph of Love has been secured more than five years after the bidding process began – heading for Oxford's lavishly refurbished Ashmolean Museum in a £620,000 deal, and Scottish colourist Francis Cadell's striking Still Life with Green Bottle will go to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in a deal worth more than £150,000.
Sir Howard Hodgkin's Portrait of Peter Cochrane was bought for £42,000 in February. The permanent home for the piece is still to be confirmed
Paintings by David Hockney, Frank Auerbach and Sir Howard Hodgkin also join works by Van Dyck, Guardi and Millet on the glamorous selection of bequests.
MLA Chair Andrew Motion said the list was "most encouraging" against a backdrop of economic gloom.
"It is heartening to see the scheme flourishing, playing a very important part in developing the heritage and wealth of our cultural life," he observed.
"It is particularly exciting to see the rise in the number of modern painters whose works are coming through the scheme into public ownership – painters of international importance who have made such a significant contribution to the artistic and cultural standing of the UK."
Culture Minister Margaret Hodge added: "The success of this scheme is demonstrated through the wide range of wonderful paintings and historic objects that have entered public collections for the enjoyment and pleasure of all."
"Most importantly, because these treasures have been gifted to an array of regional museums and galleries, people from all across the UK will benefit from these cultural acquisitions."
Key acquisitions from the AIL scheme 2008/09:
Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder: Flower Painting (£1,675,091)
Antwerp-born Bosschaert was one of the first Dutch flower painters, starting in the late 16th century.
This unusually large painting of a bouquet of flowers in a blue and white Wan-Li porcelain vase on copper is distinctive for a Red Admiral butterfly and rare shells nearby, which would have been considered exotic treats at the time after being brought back from the Far East by Dutch seamen.
The painting has been dated to around 1609 and temporarily given to The National Gallery pending a decision on permanent allocation.
Jean-Francois Millet: The Angleus (£1,050,000)
An iconic, haunting image of rural life which became the costliest-ever work of modern art when it sold in 1889.
It was last seen in public at the sale of the contents of Millet’s studio following his death in 1875, but this pastel version will be allocated to a UK gallery.
Thomas Gainsborough: Landscape (£700,000)
After declaring himself sick of portraits in later life, Gainsborough longed for a life of ease which would allow him to wander the countryside, playing music and painting landscapes.
This late 1750s piece shows the landscapes of Gainsborugh’s Suffolk upbringing, passed through the family of the commissioning East Anglian patron for 250 years. Allocated to the Castle Museum, Norwich.
Joshua Reynolds: Portrait of the Harcourt Family (£443,417)
A group portrait of nobility by the first President of the Royal Academy and leading 18th century painter, depicting the Earl and Countess in their peers’ robes.
The portrait has not appeared in public since the mid-19th century, and has been temporarily given to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
David Allan: Leadmining at Leadhills (£185,281)
Four oil paintings by the Clackmannanshire printmaker apprentice, comprising the industrial process in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.
The images eschew traditional nostalgia in favour of the grit of the industrial process, from lead production to ore washing and pouring of molten lead. Allocated to the National Galleries of Scotland.
Archive of Henry Addington (£620,897)
Viscount Sidmouth between 1757 and 1844, Addington was Prime Minister for three years from 1801, succeeding and being succeeded by William Pitt the Younger.
He also served as Speaker from 1789-1801 and was Home Secretary for nine years. Despite serving parliament across four decades, his achievements were occasionally derided – but the archive he left is beyond compare, starring a collection of more than 50 letters from Horatio Nelson on politics and naval policy.
The archive could have settled more tax than was actually payable, so the Devon Record Office met the difference, and the archive has been permanently passed on to it as a result.
Find out more about the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme on the MLA website.