February 19, 2013 12:46 pm

Italian masterpieces donated to the UK

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Guido Reni’s ‘The Rape of Europa’: part of Sir Denis Mahon’s donation©ArtFund

Guido Reni’s ‘The Rape of Europa’: the painting forms part of Sir Denis Mahon’s donation

A collection of 57 Italian baroque masterpieces, including works by Guercino and Guido Reni, has been donated to galleries across the UK in “one of the most significant” transfers of art from private to public hands in a century.

Sir Denis Mahon, who died in 2011 aged 100, bequeathed his collection to the Art Fund on the condition that the works remain freely accessible to the public.

The National Gallery in London will be the largest beneficiary, receiving 25 works, many of which are already on display.

Mahon’s purchase of Guercino’s “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple”, bought in 1953 at a cost of £2,000, was the most he spent on a single piece of art until 2006. For some of the Guercino drawings he paid as little as £10. Estimates now put the value of his collection at £100m.

The art historian and collector, who campaigned throughout his life to maintain free public access to collections housed in the nation’s museums and galleries, is credited with having brought Italian baroque paintings to the attention of British audiences.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said Sir Denis was a “ruthless arts lobbyist” who was determined to keep “one of the most important private collections of 17th century Italian baroque paintings anywhere” on public display.

The heir to the Guinness Mahon merchant banking fortune had “changed the tastes of art lovers in this country,” Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, said.

“He is one of our greatest benefactors [and was] a hyperactive trustee of the gallery,” Mr Penny said.

The Art Fund will oversee the transfer of the paintings into the permanent collections of six museums: 25 paintings to the National Gallery, London; 12 to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; eight to the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh; six to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; five to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery; and one to Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

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