National Galleries secure £50 million Titian Masterpiece

By Culture24 Staff | 02 February 2009
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A painting showing Diana, chaste goddess of the hunt, disturbed at her bath by a hunter

Diana and Actaeon, 1556-1559. Courtesy National Gallery Scotland, lent by the Duke of Sutherland in 1945

A high-profile bid to save a Titian depiction of a 16th century brothel has secured the £50 million required to buy the painting.

In a statement issued this morning (February 2 2009) the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland said they were “delighted” to have bought Diana and Actaeon from the Duke of Sutherland, having won heavy financial backing from bodies including the Scottish government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund, as well as a reported £7.4 million from public donations.

“From the very beginning we have supported this campaign, making a significant funding pledge to the NGS which kicked off its fundraising campaign and generated millions of pounds in donations,” said Scottish Culture Minister Linda Fabiani.

“Many ordinary people have donated from their savings and even from their pensions to help keep the collection in Scotland and the campaign has seen extraordinary results in just a few short months.

“The international interest and support generated around this campaign offers a golden opportunity for our National Galleries to raise its profile and show the world that Scotland will continue to punch above its weight in cultural excellence.”

An original deadline of December 31 was imposed when the Duke announced the sale last summer, but the cut-off was extended in order to allow further funding to be raised.

The campaign has provoked fierce debate, splitting opinion amongst art critics, politicians and the public.

Glasgow South West MP Ian Davidson told The Times newspaper the Duke’s tax-free sale was “morally reprehensible” last month, and Adam Montgomery, Provost of Midlothian Council, justified a potential closure of the Scottish Mining Museum by citing the Government’s mooted £17.5 million commitment to Diana and Actaeon.

That figure was an exaggeration of £5 million, an investment the likes of Tracey Emin – who said it would be “really embarrassing if the government doesn’t buy them and they are bought by some Russian oligarch” – applauded as a bargain in light of the expected £150 million the work was expected to raise at auction.

“It’s fantastic that even in such difficult times Britain can stand high in regard to culture,” retorted Emin. “The Titians are here to stay, not just for me and you, but forever for the future.”

Hollywood actress Kim Cattrall showed her support by impersonating the cavorting nudes Titian painted in a saucy snap next to the original in November last year, and Guardian art connoisseur Jonathan Jones described the recreation of a “last hedonistic bash before Lent” as “one of the most sumptuous collections of nudes ever painted.”

Fabiani argued that the acquisition represented “real value for money and a strong return on investment” in a move which would aid the country’s economic recovery.

“Our contribution has not only secured the Titian painting permanently for the NGS, but just as importantly ensures continuing public access to a collection worth hundreds of millions of pounds for the next 21 years,” she said.

“This is a significant investment in Scotland's future securing a collection worth many millions of pounds at a fraction of the market cost. Over 1.5 million people visited the Bridgewater Collection last year, with two-thirds of those coming from outside Edinburgh.

“The collection is a significant tourist draw with a half day visit to the National Galleries equating to an estimated annual £27 million tourist spend, with the indirect economic impact of this rising to an estimated £50 million a year.

“Boosting Scotland's tourism is central to the Scottish Government's Economic Recovery Programme. As we approach the Year of Homecoming in 2009 this world-renowned collection will help to maximise tourism revenue and celebrate Scotland's culture and international prestige.”

National Gallery director Nicholas Penny said: “The response to our appeal to buy this great painting has been astonishing.

“The notes pressed into collecting boxes and the cheques sent to us by the general public, the generosity of individual friends of the gallery and the support given by the trustees of charitable bodies combine to make this a great success story.

“It testifies to the power of Titian's painting and the conviction that public access to the greatest works of art is of the utmost importance.”

John Leighton, Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, said the institution was “absolutely thrilled” at preserving “one of the most important paintings in the world.”

“We are hugely grateful to all the individuals and all the funding bodies who responded so warmly and wholeheartedly to this campaign over the past four months,” he added.

Alison Watt, who was Artist in Residence at the National Gallery between 2006 and 2008 and appointed an OBE last year, said: “One of the extraordinary consequences of being involved in the campaign to save Diana and Actaeon for the nation is that I've found myself falling in love with the painting all over again.

“With such overwhelming support, Diana and Actaeon will remain on public view and will continue to inspire us and make us think differently about the world. We've invested in our future.”

Angel of the North sculptor Antony Gormley called the announcement “great news for Britain and for art,” and Sir Howard Hodgkin said it was “wonderful that such an extraordinary painting has been saved to inspire us all.”

The institutions now have the option to purchase an accompanying Titian piece, Diana and Callisto, if they can raise a similar amount by 2012.

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