On Friday The Independent led with the article: Art for whose sake? Up for deliberation was the Duke of Sutherland’s decision to sell off a highly regarded collection of paintings, known as the Bridgewater Loan. It includes such wondrous paintings as Titan’s Diana and Callisto.
The Independent suggests “ministers might look at whether the tax regime might be further reformed to make it less easy (or desirable) for the holders of these great collections periodically to hold the nation to ransom in the name of art.” What skewed analysis! In fact, we should be thanking individuals such as the 7th Duke of Sutherland for letting the public view the masterpieces for so long. Also, the Duke is offering to sell two of the paintings to London’s National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland for £100 million, paintings that on the open market that could fetch upwards of £300 million.
Of course, taxpayers should not be paying for the works, even at this bargain rate. The solution? Start charging for museums again. This will mean that only those that like what’s inside will be paying to keep it that way. Galleries could offer membership for those who wish to pop in throughout the year, school groups and art students could have free or reduced access and they could even offer the odd day a month in which access is free. Given the right management, there is no reason why galleries could not run at a profit.
If the state stepped away from the galleries, charities involved in enabling access to art would once more be legitimised. Also, wealthy individuals who believe in the value that holding on to works of art for the benefit of the nation will be free to take up their responsibilities. Unpopular? Perhaps. Yet surely the right answer.