March 1, 2012 / 12:20 PM / 7 years ago

UK galleries pay $72 million for Titian masterpiece

LONDON (Reuters) - Two British galleries have raised 45 million pounds ($72 million) for an important painting by Renaissance master Titian, dipping into their own coffers rather than asking the cash-strapped public to help.

A staff member poses in front of Titian's painting 'Diana and Callisto' at the National Gallery in London, March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

The acquisition of “Diana and Callisto” by London’s National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, follows a similar purchase in 2009 for the accompanying canvas “Diana and Actaeon,” which cost the galleries 50 million pounds.

National Gallery director Nicholas Penny said the museums decided to use bequests left them, ranging from 100 to 500,000 pounds, to raise 25 million pounds towards the second work.

“There was no special request for a government grant and there was no public appeal in these very difficult times,” Penny told reporters on Thursday at the gallery in central London.

“We have of course used these reserves before, but never on this scale, and no purchase ever made by the National Gallery has begun to approach the magnitude of this acquisition.

“The trustees believed no greater old master painting could possibly be secured.”

The acquisition means that Titian’s 16th century paintings “Diana and Callisto” and “Diana and Actaeon” can continue to hang together and be viewed by the general public.

The purchase from the Duke of Sutherland also means that the loan of the Bridgewater Collection, billed as the greatest private collection of old master paintings in the world, will remain intact at the National Galleries of Scotland.

The two galleries said they were grateful to the Duke of Sutherland for agreeing to sell the second painting for 45 million pounds, which they said was “significantly lower” than the market value.

The old master auction record stands at 49.5 million pounds set in 2002 at Sotheby’s for Peter Paul Rubens’ “The Massacre of the Innocents.”

Penny said he anticipated being asked why a national gallery was spending such large sums to acquire works by a painter who was not British at a time when the economy was so weak.

“If you lined up (British artists) Reynolds and Gainsborough and Turner and Constable, not only would they feel that this was a very great day for Great Britain but they would also admit that they would not have been the artists they were had it not been for the example of Titian.

“We do have quite a few (works by Titian). But that is to me a question rather similar to (asking) ‘there is one play by Shakespeare, do you really need any other ones?’.”

John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland, said the four-year campaign to acquire the two Titians had been fraught with difficulties.

“The risk of failure was of course a very real one, and we began this venture back in 2008 in what was obviously a very different economic climate, and there have been moments when success seemed far from assured,” he said.

Diana and Actaeon was purchased in 2009 and Diana and Callisto was acquired with the help of the Art Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund as well as donations and grants from individual donors and trusts.

The two works were painted for King Philip II of Spain between 1556 and 1559 as part of a series of six large pictures executed when Titian was at the height of his powers.

The paintings moved to France in 1704 as a diplomatic gift and were auctioned off almost a century later, after the French Revolution, in the famous Orleans sale before being acquired by British aristocrats.

Diana and Callisto tells the story of a nymph whose association with the gods has tragic consequences.

The two Titians will be shared between the London and Edinburgh galleries, and displayed together starting in London in July when “Diana and Actaeon” returns from a regional tour.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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