38 Churchill paintings 'offered to the nation'

October 8 2014

Image of 38 Churchill paintings 'offered to the nation'

Picture: BBC

38 paintings by Winston Churchill are being 'offered to the nation' after the recent death of the great man's daughter, Mary Soames. Most of them are on public display already, in places such as Chartwell and the Houses of Parliament. The story is here on the BBC. 

Of course, 'offer' is a slightly misleading term, for the pictures are actually being offered to the government's through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme. This allows a deceased's estate to in effect sell cultural works to the government in settlement of death duties. The scheme is an excellent one, and has safeguarded many treasures for the nation over the decades. 

But there is no charitable element in operation here on behalf of the Soames estate. In fact, it could be argued that securing a bulk deal with the government represents better value for money for the Soames estate than selling them all at once at auction. I'm only pointing this out because it is unusual for an AIL offer to be made so publicly, when the decision to actually accept them is some considerable time away (next year it seems). This may though have something to do with the fact that Sotheby's are promoting a forthcoming sale of Churchill items also from Mary Soames' estate. 

It will be for the Acceptance in Lieu advisory board to recommend whether all the pictures be taken as payment of death duties. Questions it might ask include, does the nation really require all 38 of the paintings? Is there an overwhelming sense that the 38 are part of a single cohesive group - ie, they were all painted at a particular time, or in a particular place - and should they be kept together, even though they are not currently on display together? We don't yet know the value the pictures are being offered to the AIL scheme at, but the key point here is that the scheme has a finite limit in the amount of tax it can write off in a single year. At the moment it is set at £40m, which includes the government's new Cultural Giving Scheme. So the AIL panel will need to weigh up whether they should acquire all the paintings, and then perhaps miss out on helping acquire other treasures during the year, or to perhaps only choose some. You can see here on Your Paintings that the nation already owns 190 paintings by Churchill. 

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