Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

February 11 2013

Image of Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

Picture: National Gallery

Newly released minutes of the National Gallery of Scotland's trustee meeting reveal that the NGS is combining with four other organisations to acquire John Constable's epic 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows'. The picture is being made available via the government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The NGS minutes state:

Possible AIL Acquisition: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable 

Mr Clarke [NGS Director] reported that NGS was applying for the above Constable painting through the AIL scheme in conjunction with four other organisations (including Tate Britain).  If successful, NGS would get one fifth share of the painting.

The picture is currently on loan at the National Gallery, London, from a private collection. The picture has been in the same ownership since 1857. No values have been stated yet. More details as I get them.

Update - a reader who spotted the news writes:

I was really surprised for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is surely the wonderful late Constable which has been on loan to the National Gallery, London , from the Ashton of Hyde family, since at least the early 1980s?

Then, from the NGS Minutes it seems to being bid for by five ( yes five) galleries including the Tate . The NGS of Scotland seemed to think it would get a fifth share.  Does that mean that this splendid painting will be trundled up and down the land for ever more?  It is worrying enough that the two great Titians will be shuttled between London and Edinburgh twice every 10 years.

Then, while writing this with a Scottish mother and English father, I wonder why the National Gallery of Scotland thinks it is entitled to a share of a painting by a very English artist which has only ever been in English collections and for over 30 years has been shown at the National Gallery? Are works of art from Scottish collections, accepted by AIL, allocated south of the border? Probably yes, as I can think of the Raeburn “The Archers” double portrait which came to the National Gallery in 2001, but I wonder what the ratio is.

And, yes, I believe that national painting collections should not be restricted to the art just of that country but, at the same time I would prefer that this decision on allocation was made after the Scottish independence vote in 2014!

And another writes:

5 galleries sharing such a work would be unusual - the need for so many to be involved suggests that a substantial sum of money is also going to be involved to make this deal work.

I suspect that the case might one where the value of the painting exceeds the value of the tax to be waived. The combined effort may mean that a substantial fundraising effort is required. The record for a Constable work is the £22.4m for The Lock sold last year, and Salisbury Cathedral is twice the painting. Regular readers will know, however, that the £22.4m figure is one to be taken with a pinch of salt

Update II - a reader wonders if the NGS were meant to spill the beans this early on in the acquisition process:

When the National Gallery in London publishes its Minutes to trustee board meetings, discussion on acquisitions always note “Information has been excluded under s 43 Freedom of Information Act 2000”

Update III - a reader agrees with the above, but then makes a heretical suggestion:

I agree with the two updates - my thoughts too.  A little while ago I noticed it missing from the NG and asked a guard about it.  He pointed to its usual place and said it was there ... then realised that it was gone!  It was just at an exhibition, but he hadn't noticed its absence.  Much as I love seeing it in London, I'd frankly prefer it to go elsewhere rather than be shuffled between five galleries.  Not the Louvre - they'd only send it to Lens.  But what about the Musee D'Orsay?  It would fit the collection well, and it seems appropriate for Paris to have a great Constable given how they appreciated him in the nineteenth century.  Or the Neue Pinakothek in Munich - a great collection that would be able to show it in a different context.  I know they won't have the funds for a purchase on this scale, but I'd make a donation.

Another reader agrees about the secrecy angle:

Your Update 2 contributor is right; now the National Gallery, London Trustee Meeting Minutes exclude all references to Potential Acquisitions.  It was not always such because as recently as 2006, there were references to discussions about potential acquisitions, accepted and rejected, and even prices paid. Then, all that stopped and the “Excluded under the Freedom of Information Act etc” was all you got. So I wrote to the NG about the sudden change in the quality of information given in the Trustees’ Minutes and received a “snotty” reply saying that they were entitled to exclude material etc…..So much for transparency, although, of course, sensitive information about current negotiations should be excluded, even though Minutes are always four months in arrears.

Tate Trustee Minutes are even worse, threaded with “Excluded….” tags like confetti through the text!

Update IV - the NGS minutes have now been removed. Oops.

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