Titian - press reaction

March 2 2012

Image of Titian - press reaction

Picture: National Gallery

The press reaction to yesterday's glorious £45m acquisition has been entirely positive. Even The Mirror gets into the spirit, saying that not only is it an 'incredible purchase', but that the pictures will prove to be a bargain. This, in a time of austerity, is a Good Thing. Of course, the 'is it worth' question has been asked, but it's a notion quickly damped down by Nicholas Penny's sound common sense. From The Telegraph:

Dr Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, said: “The decision was made by the Trustees that we must secure these paintings and I think that’s why people make bequests to the National Gallery.

“I know some people might think, ‘Why not buy ten lesser things?’ but the National Gallery was founded principally as a great collection of masterpieces.”

Dr Penny added: “You could ask, ‘What on earth is the National Gallery doing spending so much money on works of art by foreign artists?’

“But that’s what we do here. And if you lined up Reynolds, Gainsborough and Constable, not only would they feel this was a very great day for Britain, but they would also admit they would not have been the artists they were without Titian.”

Of course, by far the best article on the acqusition was the one that quoted me, in The Independent. There, Adam Sherwin focused on the extent to which the National Gallery raided its reserves:

Concluding that a public appeal would appear inappropriate in the economic climate, the National Gallery was forced to delve deep into its own reserves to raise the money. The Trustees agreed to spend £25m from the £32m which has been accumulated from 67 bequests over the past century. Donations from The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and anonymous contributions, some for up to £500,000, made up the shortfall, with the Duke accepting a £45m price.

Dr Nicholas Penny claimed that "no greater pair of old master paintings could possibly be secured" for the nation. But he admitted the buy: "Had wiped out all the obviously available funds in reserve. We have depleted our reserves very considerably with this purchase." With 20 Titians already in the National Gallery, did it really need to spend so much on one more, however distinguished? "It's like saying you've got one Shakespeare play, do you need any other ones?" Dr Penny said. "I don't know if you can have too many Titians."


However Bendor Grosvenor, a London art dealer and Old Masters expert, questioned the funding balance. He wrote on the Art History News blog: "I'm staggered that the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is awash with more money than it has ever had, only coughed up a measly £3m. That's about the same as it spent on accommodation, postage and office equipment last year."

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