The Scotsman reflects on a year of gifts that were no gifts. Duncan MacMillan points out that the £50 million for the Duke of Sutherland’s Titians has almost been raised. (No word on whether the people of Scotland and England will get a break based on the market correction of the last four months.) But that wasn’t the only big ticket gift Scotland received. Anthony d’Offay also gave and received in the form of a £26 million collection:
Reflect, however, that with the d’Offay collection and the Sutherland Titians we have been faced with two emergency purchases on this scale this year and they follow the similar emergency over Dumfries House last year and the John Murray archive the year before that. Surely there is something wrong with the system when an owner can hold us to ransom like this? It wrecks any systematic acquisition policy and leaves serial crisis management in its place. Export of a work of art can be delayed for up to six months if a committee of the Office of Arts and Libraries so decides. The delay is to allow a public institution time to match the price. Based on unquestioning acceptance of the priority of private property rights, it works for lesser items, but is wholly inadequate to deal with modern values. Nor is there any suggestion in it that ownership of a work brings with it some obligation to the wider community of whose heritage it is part. No institution is funded to cope with prices like these. Public appeals are a diminishing resource. The Heritage Memorial Fund designed to meet such emergencies is not a bottomless purse and so the government has to step in. Some years ago, it was suggested to Ian Laing, then Secretary of State for Scotland, that it would be prudent to start putting money aside against the likelihood that the Sutherland pictures would be sold. It was not done. It would surely be sensible to follow that plan now and to start a Scottish equivalent to the Heritage Memorial Fund. Then, assuming that the two Titians are safely acquired, when in 21 years time the Sutherland family are released from their vow of restraint, we might just be ready for it.
The Year in Visual Art (The Scotsman)