The Duke of Sutherland’s two most famous Titians are for sale

28/8/08— Museums — Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland and London, National Gallery — Private collections in the United Kingdom are among the richest in masterpieces of Western art, some of which are on long term deposit in British museums. In the last few years, these have been facing a major challenge : the owners’ wishes (these are often members of the aristocracy) to sell them off to the highest bidder. We had already spoken here (see news item of 12/7/07) about the Duke of Rutland who had expressed the wish to sell his series of Poussin’s Sacraments (which he has decided for the time being to keep on loan to the National Gallery in London), the Earl of Halifax a Portrait of a Young Man by Titian (to our knowledge, the painting is still available at Dickinson’s), and the late Viscount Hampden a study by Rubens for the ceiling at Banqueting Hall (the Tate Gallery has launched a fundraising drive which seems will meet with success shortly).

Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian (1489/1490-1576)
Diana and Actaeon, 1556-1559
Oil on canvas - 184.5 x 202.2 cm
Collection of the Duke of Sutherland, on
loan at the National Gallery of Scotland
Photo : National Gallery of Scotland

Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian (1489/1490-1576)
Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559
Oil on canvas - 187 x 204.5 cm
Collection of the Duke of Sutherland, on
loan at the National Gallery of Scotland
Photo : National Gallery of Scotland

It is now the Duke of Sutherland’s turn to proceed with the sell-off of several of the most prized items in his collection. The masterpieces have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Scotland since 1945. There are notably, besides Poussin’s second series of Sacraments, a Self-Portrait by Rembrandt and three Raphaels (The Holy Family with a Palm Tree, The Bridgewater Madonna and The Madonna del Passeggio - the latter with assistance from the workshop).
Although the Scottish museum had already managed to acquire four works in 1984 [1] and a Titian in 2003 (Venus Anadyomene), the challenge facing it today is on a much larger scale [2].
Nonetheless, as the duke wishes for the collection to remain within the United Kingdom, he has accepted that the National Galleries in Scotland and London collaborate together to acquire his two most famous Titians, Diana and Actaeon (ill. 1) and Diana and Callisto (ill. 2), painted by the artist for King Philip II of Spain [3] at a “preferential” price. The first will have to be purchased separately (still at an asking price of 50 million pounds) then four years later, the second for the exact same amount. Under these conditions, the duke promises to leave the rest of the works on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Scotland (for at least 21 years according to The Scotsman of 28 August 2008). Should the offer be turned down, he would dispose of these two paintings and perhaps others for sale abroad if need be.

We sincerely hope of course that this affair meets with a happy ending. However, the solution which has been decided upon, that is to hang them alternately in London and Edinburgh is not a satisfactory one. The continuous increase in sale prices for art works often implies, notably in the United Kingdom and the United States, that two establishments purchase them together thus imposing permanent and risky transportation problems [4].

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 28 août 2008


[1] Lorenzo Lotto, The Virgin and Child with Saints ; Tintoretto, Christ Carried to the Tomb ; Gerrit Dou, An Interior with a Young Violinist and Jan Steen, A School for Boys and Girls.

[2] Besides the paintings already listed above as well as the two Titians, the Duke’s current deposits in Edinburgh include an eighth Poussin, Moses Striking the Rock, a Gerard Ter Borch, a Portrait of a Young Man by Van Dyck, a Landscape with a View of Bergkerk, Deventer by Meindert Hobbema, a Portrait of a Venetian by Tintoretto, two other Titians (The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and an unidentified Male Saint and The Three Ages of Man), a Rubens (Mercury Bearing Psyche in his Arms) and a Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist, Saint Joseph in the Distance by Bonifazio Veronese, along with three works from two workshops and a follower of Rembrandt’s, a copy after Raphael and a portrait of an elderly woman from the Dutch School.

[3] A study or a ricordo of Diana and Callisto was exhibited at the Canesso Gallery in Paris in 2005

[4] This is the case for example of The Three Graces by Canova, shared by the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Gallery of Scotland. One can only shudder at the thought of the dangers facing this invaluable marble every three years or so when it is transferred to its joint owner.

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