So the two National Galleries (Scotland and England) have jointly purchased the second of the great Diana paintings by Titian, having bought the Action painting a few years ago. This seems about the best that can be done in the circumstances. But the circumstances are not good. Let me give some background.
When I was a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland in the 1980s, the Sutherland Trustees decided they needed to raise money and approached Sotheby’s (not the National Galleries, where the Sutherland paintings had been held for many years). Sotheby’s said they thought they “should test the market with a Titian”. When the Nat Gall got word of this they contacted the Sutherland estate, and opened negotiations to secure a good deal with the available tax concessions. “We” secured a Tintoretto (which cleaned up a treat), a somewhat damaged Lotto and a Steen and the estate got the sum it wanted. Sotheby’s of course acted as agents for the sale to the nation and advertised their public-spirited role.
There 3 bad circumstances at work here:
- the auctioneers have a prime interest in getting a work into their salerooms not into public collections. They should be disqualified from acting as agents for the sale to the nation because they have no interest in giving their clients the best advice;
- the National Galleries have held the paintings for many years, conserving them, protecting them, researching them, facilitating public access. They would be within their rights billing the Sutherland trustees for the services they have rendered, accepting of course that the Galleries have benefitted from their presence;
- the Sutherland Trustees seem to operate a bottomless pit. How long before the auctioneers want to “test the Market” with the Raphael?