Friday, 5 September 2008

Save the Titians

Letter published in the Herald

Saturday, 30 August 2008


The National Galleries have revealed the urgent need to pay £100 million for the star pieces in the Bridgewater Collection in return for a continued loan of the other 25 paintings for another 21 years. All this haste is due, we are told, to the ultra-rich 7th Duke of Sutherland reassessing his family assets in view of current auction room prices for Old Masters. This raises several thoughts and serious questions for our public galleries and the ordinary tax payer.

Photo: Rob below the Duke of Sutherland's statue on Ben Bhraggie

Tracy Emin has called for a UK-wide subscription at a pound a skull which has eerie echoes from the time of the First Duke. She may not know that the late aristocrat's 'man of business' James Loch raised three monuments to the late Duke following a call for subscriptions in 1833. Many gentlemen of Sutherland gave generously and every tenant, left after the Duke's clearances, gave dutifully, thankful, no doubt, that they had been spared the evictions which were wrought by Loch and Sellar in the previous two decades. All the names were printed in a memorial for the gratifying estimation in which the First Duke was held by the gentlemen and inhabitants of Sutherland. The Herald is correct in saying that the infamous statue on Ben Bhraggie was erected in 1837, but having seen the correspondence in the National Library I can assure your readers that it was not completed till the end of 1838.

Nevertheless the Bridgewater Collection existed long before the 2nd Marquis of Stafford was rewarded with his dukedom. However since then death duties have complicated the inheritance processes of the rich. So loans to galleries and reassessments of asset values have to be done. I'm not against public subscriptions for such major works of art. Indeed the Scottish Government rightly indicated it will support the collection. Surely an appeal to the ultra-rich should be the first port of call, not from the pennies of the poor? However a couple of other matters need to be aired.

First, it was hinted by the John Leighton, director general of the NGS that 'we have known for decades that a moment like this would arrive'. The public should be told how many more works of art in the national collection are on loan, what their current market values amount to and whether the owners are likely to repossess their works as a result of their revalued family assets that could be threatened by death duties and burden the nation with more appeals for large sums.

Second, isn't this one of the very obvious ways that a National Oil Fund for Future Generations could have been invested? Unlike Norway which has amassed 200 billions in 12 years, we in Scotland have no such cushion for unexpected national costs and events.

Third, had the Sutherland family not fallen out and split their assets a hundred years ago, perhaps the 90,000 acres of Sutherland still held by the other branch of the family, under the ancient Scottish Earldom, could have been donated for national use and local development of the communities it still constrains. That would have kept the jewels of the art world and removed another bastion of private landed interests from our unfree land.

Rob Gibson MSP
4 Grant St., Wick

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