The armchair from which Lord Nelson planned his dashing campaigns on board HMS Victory, and the only surviving shirt to have borne the sweat stains of his efforts, are among the items that have been freshly bequeathed to the nation as a result of a tax scheme aimed at saving Britain’s cultural heritage.
About £3m ($6m) worth of treasures have been transferred to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax in recent months, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council announced on Tuesday.
They include a painting by Edward Burne-Jones, “Music”, regarded as one of the pre-Raphaelite artist’s masterpieces and not seen in public since 1901, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Hamlet and Ophelia”, sold by the artist after its completion in 1866 for 100 guineas, and now accepted to settle £315,000 of tax.
It was also announced that Carlo Portelli’s painting “The Charity of Saint Nicholas of Bari”, previously acquired by the scheme but never before displayed in public, will be housed in the National Gallery from next year.
But that good news was offset by a report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the export of objects of cultural interest, which shows that important art works were allowed to leave the country over the past financial year.
The report shows that, out of 20 objects which were “export-stopped” to enable British cultural institutions to match a foreign buyer’s offer, only 12 were saved for the nation.
Significant works lost included Michiel van Musscher’s “Portrait of an Artist in his Studio”, worth £6.6m; J.M.W. Turner’s “The Dark Rigi” (£2.7m); and John Constable’s “Flatford Lock from the Mill House” (£2.79m).
Another Turner watercolour, “The Blue Rigi”, was saved following a national campaign to raise the £5.8m to keep it in Britain. Members of the public raised more than £500,000 by sponsoring their own segments of the painting in an online “Buy a Brushstroke” fund-raising campaign.
But David Barrie, director of the Art Fund, which spearheaded the campaign, described that success as a rare victory.
He said: “With the exception of Turner’s “Blue Rigi” …all the most expensive art has eluded us.
“This demonstrates again that the export control system is simply not working as it should. With the declining spending power of the lottery and ever-increasing prices for major works of art, this situation is only going to get worse.”
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