National Galleries’ art budget slashed by a fifth to ‘derisory’ £200,000

The Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh
The Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh
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THE acquisitions budget of the National Galleries of Scotland has been slashed by a fifth to just £200,000 a year to buy works for the national collection, The Scotsman has learned.

One expert called the figure a “derisory” amount of cash. It comes amid concern that new UK budget rules, limiting the charitable donations that can be claimed against tax, will also hit private giving to public art galleries.

For years, Scotland’s national galleries have fought bitterly to protect ring-fenced annual funding of more than £1 million to help buy key works of art. The figure peaked at £1.2m, but the cash has recently been poured into the fund-raising effort for two Titian paintings bought for £95m.

From this year, after sharp cuts in the Scottish Government’s capital spending across the board, the NGS will receive just £1.2m over three years for all capital expenditures, including building works. Its trustees have set aside £200,000 a year for buying artworks.

The art critic and former Glasgow museums chief Julian Spalding said yesterday: “It’s not only small beer, it’s derisory for a nation. It’s the sort of figure that a city like Manchester, or Sheffield, where I worked, might have. That’s a figure for a big city but not a whole country.”

The gallery needed an accumulating fund, he said, to put down enough money to lever more cash out of private donors or trusts.

“The galleries are there to acquire things of beauty which are a joy for ever. That doesn’t enable you to collect what is going on in Scotland, let alone the country.”

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery acquired a classic self-portrait by the leading Scottish artist Alison Watt yesterday – but with the £17,500 cost of the painting entirely paid for by the Art Fund, the UK art charity.

Watt said the UK ought to introduce US-style tax breaks for giving art to public institutions.

The galleries have benefited from major one-off grants. The UK and Scottish governments have helped buy the two Titian paintings, which had hung in the NGS for six decades.

They will be shown in a 40-60 split between Edinburgh and London’s national galleries, after the lion’s share of the purchase money came from south of the Border. In 2008, the Scottish Government put £10m towards another joint purchase of the huge d’Offay collection of modern art.

But it has left concern that other key purchases, particularly of Scottish work, will be abandoned. In one example of soaring art market prices, a copy of The Scream, by Munch, goes on show at Sotheby’s today with an estimated price of £80m. The NGS director general John Leighton said yesterday: “We will make it go as far as we can. We do become ever more creative in relation to private collectors, looking for gifts, loans, bequests, something we have always done and done skilfully.

“It is hard making a fuss about it when you see how capital spending has had to be reduced in Scotland right across the public sector,” he added.

The galleries will become more dependent on external funders, like the Art Fund, a charity with 80,000 members that raises cash to buy works for the nation.

The Art Fund director, Stephen Deuchar, said: “The erosion of acquisitions budgets applies across the museums sector. Regional museums in the UK have stopped allocating funds altogether.”