A public appeal is set to be mounted to help secure The Monarch of the Glen painting for the nation.
The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS), which is now in a race against the clock to raise £4 million to buy the picture, is set to launch a campaign next month to bridge an expected funding gap.
Bosses have revealed they decided against going public before Christmas with a fundraising drive and have instead been trying to secure backing “behind the scenes”.
However, despite securing a number of donations since a potential deal with the painting’s owner, drinks giant Diageo, emerged in mid-November, NGS said it is only likely to have a “platform” in place by the turn of the year.
The Scotsman revealed last month that The Monarch of the Glen painting was at risk of going overseas after being suddenly put up for sale for the first time in 100 years by Diageo.
Sir Edwin Landseer’s 1851 masterpiece of a stag set against a remote Highland backdrop was expected to generate a sale of more than £10 million at auction in London.
Described by auctioneers Christie’s as “a great icon of European 19th century painting,” The Monarch of the Glen was originally commissioned for the House of Lords, but never went on display and was bought from the artist by the sportsman Lord Londesborough for 350 guineas.
It had been on public display in Edinburgh for two decades under a loan between Diageo and the National Museum of Scotland. However, Diageo decided to put the painting up for sale as it does not have a link to any of its brands.
The Scottish Government intervened within hours to say it wanted the painting to remain on display in Scotland because of its “strong associations” with the country.
It emerged in mid-November that Diageo had agreed to remove the painting from a sale at Christie’s in London and instead sell it to NGS if it could raise the reduced price of £4m. It has been set a deadline of 16 March to raise the funding or run the risk of the whisky firm sending it back to auction.
Sir John Leighton, director-general of NGS, said: “What we’re doing at the moment is very much behind the scenes. We’re trying to get a platform or a base and we will see where we are in around late-mid January. I would imagine we will then come out with an announcement saying we have so much pledged and what we still need to raise.
“That is when we would go public with an appeal. We thought about going public earlier, but if you do that and the amount you still have to raise seems too large, people think it is not worth it.
“The other thing is it is not the best time of year to be waving the tin. In the run-up to Christmas, people’s charitable notions tend to focus on social causes. I don’t think you can compete with that.
“There has been a good response so far. As ever, it’s all about converting response into pledge. I’m being quietly optimistic, but not complacent, about it.
“There is a lot going on and a lot of other competition for people’s attention. Although £4m is a very reasonable and conservative price for that picture, it is still a lot of money. I suppose if we were in a London context it would be one cocktail party, but we are not.”
Sir John stressed that he was hoping to avoid NGS having to call on any public funding to secure future of the painting.
He added: “There is so much pressure on those budgets that if we can do this in other ways I would prefer to do that.”
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop told The Scotsman: “It is correct that The Monarch of the Glen is made available to the public to view.
“People have different views about it, but it is an iconic painting of Scotland and it is a recognisable image the world over. I wish those that are part of the fundraising campaign well in their activities. They seem confident that the target is achievable and I’m keeping in close contact with them."