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Could you give away a £100 million art collection?

February 20, 2013
Guido Reni, The Rape of Europa, 1637-1639. Oil on canvas Dimensions: 177 x 129.5cm.

Guido Reni, The Rape of Europa, 1637-1639.
Oil on canvas Dimensions: 177 x 129.5cm.

The present appeal of 17th century Italian painting owes much to the late Sir Denis Mahon, a tireless collector, promoter and proselytizer for the likes of Domenichino, Luca Giordano, Guercino, Guido Reni and many others.  In 1999 he promised several dozen paintings to various British institutions and now, two years after his death, the terms of the bequest have been made public.  According to the Guardian:

A collection of 57 old masters worth around £100m – some bought for as little as £100 apiece in the mid-20th century – are to be formally given to the nation, with strings attached. If any attempt is made by the host museum to charge for admission; or any item from their collection is put up for sale, the Art Fund, the charity that is donating them, can take them back.

The article later says: “Mahon, heir to the Guinness Mahon banking fortune, built an extraordinary collection of mainly Italian 17th-century paintings, without ever spending more than £2,000 per picture.” It’s unclear if this ersatz-Caravaggio, for which he paid £50,400 in 2006, figures into the story.

The collection is well regarded and includes works by Luca Giordano, Salvator Rosa, Guercino, Donato Creti, Francesco Solimena and many others.

Mythological Scene of Agriculture, early 1680s.Oil on canvas Dimensions: 121.4 x 193cm.

Luca Giordano, Mythological Scene of Agriculture, early 1680s.
Oil on canvas Dimensions: 121.4 x 193cm.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, circa 1695.Oil on copper Dimensions: 32.3 x 38.9cm.

Francesco Solimena, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, circa 1695.
Oil on copper Dimensions: 32.3 x 38.9cm.

And though it initially seem unusual, the Mythological Landscape by the Antwerp-born painter Paul Bril is entirely appropriate.  Bril spent his career in Rome where many of his frescoes can still be found.

Mythological Landscape with Nymphs and Satyrs by Paul Bril, 1602-1660.Oil on canvas Dimensions: 70.6 x 92.8cm.

Paul Bril, Mythological Landscape with Nymphs and Satyrs
Oil on canvas Dimensions: 70.6 x 92.8cm.

Here’s a breakdown of the recipients:

  • National Gallery, London: 25 works
  • Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: 12 works
  • Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh: 8 works
  • Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: 6 works
  • Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery: 5 works
  • Temple Newsam House, Leeds: 1 work
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