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Titian Appeal

Jul 1971-Jun 1973


Titian Appeal


Jul 1971-Jun 1973

Archive reference number



Correspondence, promotional leaflets, notes, reports, minutes of meetings, lists of donors and contacts relating to the Titian Appeal 1971-1972.

Record type


Administrative history

"Titian's painting "Death of Actaeon" which had been exhibited on loan at the National Gallery in 1970-1971 was in 1971 sent by the trustees of the 7th Earl of Harewood to Christie's for sale. It was sold there on 25th June 1971 for £1,680,000 to Julius Weitzner. A few days later it was sold by him for £1,763,000 to the J. Paul Getty Museum at Malibu, California; but the museum could not house the picture in its collection there, unless granted a licence to export it from the United Kingdom.

Trustees of the National Gallery had enquired about negotiating privately for the picture, but this was not possible. They did not have the funds to bid for it at the auction. However they believed that export of the picture would be a loss for the nation's heritage.

Sir John Witt, Chairman of the Trustees, announced to the newspapers on 1st July 1971 that the Gallery was prepared to contribute £1m to purchase the painting (£400,00 from money available to them, £600,000 as an advance against future purchase grants).

Formal opposition to the export of the picture was made to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. On 28th July 1971 the Committee recommended delaying the export for one year. The Committee concluded that, if within a year the sum of £1, 763,000 were made available, an export licence should not be granted.

On 21st October 1971 the Office of the Paymaster General issued a press notice stating the Government's decision on the purchase of the painting. On the understanding that the Trustees could provide from their own resources £1m, the Government would match donations from the public pound for pound to raise a further £763,000. The National Art-Collections Fund had already promised £100,000 and the Pilgrim Trust had promised £50,000 towards the purchase of the painting. Therefore £463,000 was still needed (half of which would be paid by the Government).

National Gallery Trustees decided to launch a public appeal on 1st December 1971 to raise £231,500. This was the first public appeal made by the National Gallery. An Appeal Committee was formed under the Chairmanship of Sir John Witts, who was Chairman of the Board of Trustees until 15th March 1972; he retired from the board on 4th April 1972, but remained Chairman of the Appeal Committee until the end of the appeal. Meetings of the Appeal Committee were attended by appropriate members of the National Gallery's staff. Michael Levy, Keeper and Deputy Director, was the member of staff in charge of appeal business. From 3rd February 1972 the Gallery obtained the services of Dudley Collins from National Westminster Bank to assist with the running of the appeal.

The Appeal Committee made arrangements with Coutts and Co. to borrow up to 65% of covenanted moneys and a Trust was set up with powers to borrow and to receive such payments (Trustees: Sir John Witt, Sir Edward Playfair and the Hon. Jacob Rothschild). There was also a proposal that an independent Trust with borrowing powers might find supporters willing to lend over a period of years at less than commercial rates. Neither scheme was used in the end.

The Appeal was very high-profile. A letter supporting the appeal undersigned by several public figures was published in the Times newspaper in January 1972. Francis Bacon contributed to a Radio 3 programme, Dame Flora Robson appeared on London Weekend Television and a concert at the Gallery featuring Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, James Bowman and John Shirley-Quirk was broadcast on BBC television.

The Treasury Solicitor's Office and the Department of Education and Science registered the Titian Appeal Fund as a charity. There were many donations from the public, including contributions from a large number of schools, colleges and universities. A list of donors of £100 or more was published in the Times newspaper.

The Appeal was successful and a cheque for the sum of £1,763,000 for the painting was handed over on 6th July 1972.

Custodial history

The files were compiled by the Chairman of the Appeal Committee, Sir John Witt. They have always remained in the Gallery's possession however their exact date of transfer to the Archive is not known.

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