Clean-up casts new light on £1m Titian handed to museum to settle tax bill

Detail of Titian's The Triumph of Love, which has been acquired by the Ashmolean museum, Oxford

For years dirty varnish and overpainting obscured the true quality, to the point where doubts were cast on its creator. But after new research into its provenance and a thorough clean-up at the National Gallery, this stunning painting of Cupid riding a tamed lion has been confirmed as a Titian – and one that will remain in public ownership.

It was announced today that the Titian painting The Triumph of Love has been acquired by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford through the acceptance in lieu scheme, whereby great works can be left to the nation to offset taxes such as inheritance tax or estate duty. Because the amount of tax due was less than the painting’s value, money was also donated by the Ashmolean and the Art Fund charity.

The painting was left on condition it went to the Ashmolean, where it should be a highlight once the museum reopens in November after its £61m redevelopment. The museum’s director, Christopher Brown, called it a “fascinating and rare painting”, adding: “Titian’s Triumph of Love will have a huge appeal to a wide public in our renaissance displays in the transformed Ashmolean.”

The Triumph of Love, which is less than 90cm in diameter, certainly looks much better than the last time it was seen in public. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1960 but was grimy and seemed over-painted, leading to speculation that it might be the work of a pupil or follower of Titian.

Scientific examination and cleaning by the National Gallery has revealed its true quality – unmistakable Titian it says – while research by Ashmolean curator Catherine Whistler has traced the painting’s provenance back to the Venetian patrician and collector Gabriel Vendramin, a friend and patron of Titian.

The poet Andrew Motion, who chairs the government agency for museums, libraries and archives – the MLA – called it a “haunting image” of Cupid. It “again demonstrates what is possible when the tax system acts as an encouragement to private philanthropy”.

The painting settled a £619,856 tax bill for the unnamed owner. The Ashmolean gave £430,144, of which £180,000 was donated by the Art Fund.

Before being taken to Oxford it will be part of a free exhibition in Room One of the National Gallery between 21 July and 20 September.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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