Unveiled: bequest to the public of 18 masterpieces
£100m gift includes work by Monet, Degas, Freud and Gainsborough
Charlotte Higgins, ats correspondent
Tuesday July 8, 2008
After the Bath, est. 1896 by Edgar Degas, one of the paintings due to be exhibited at the Tate Britain, London. Photograph: National Gallery/PA
One of the most sensational bequests of great paintings to the British people since the foundation of the national museums is now on public view at Tate Britain, London.
Eighteen masterpieces - many of them barely, or never, seen in public over the past 50 years - have been left to the National Gallery and the Tate by Simon Sainsbury, great-grandson of the founder of J Sainsbury grocers.
The works range from a Zoffany and an early Gainsborough to three works by Lucian Freud - by way of two knockout Monets, a Gauguin and a Degas.
Sainsbury, who with his brothers John and Timothy was the driving force behind the National Gallery's Sainsbury wing, died in 2006. He was, said Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, one of the "few people in this country who had a really great collection", also amassing antique clocks, superb English Delft, furniture and antiquities. The two galleries will use Sainsbury's donations to complement or fill certain gaps in their present collections, "allowing us to round out the way we tell the stories of these artists," according to Serota.
For instance, the number of Balthuses in the Tate will rise from one to four, transforming the way the artist - famous for his troubling, erotic and almost theatrical scenes - is represented.
The Gainsborough will become the earliest work by the artist in Tate Britain. Its subjects - a rather peppery looking Mrs Carter and her corpulent husband - are believed to be the parents of Frances Andrews, depicted in Gainsborough's famous portrait, Mr and Mrs Andrews, already hanging in the gallery.
The National Gallery will double its Gauguin holdings with Bowl of Fruit and Tankard before a Window. This experimental still-life sees Gauguin paying conscious tribute to Cézanne, and "collapsing" a landscape scene into the background of his still-life of pears, peaches and apples. Degas's After the Bath will also hang in the National Gallery, near his famous pastel After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself.
The addition of Monet's Water-lilies, Setting Sun will "ensure that the National Gallery offers the finest survey of the artist's achievement in the UK," curator Chris Riopelle said.
The paintings' collective value has been conservatively estimated at £100m, but Serota said: "The real value of these works is what they will bring to the visitors." There are also plans for individual works to be loaned to museums elsewhere in the UK.
Both Serota and Riopelle said they would like the bequest to stand as an example to potential donors to public institutions.
The 18 paintings are on display at Tate Britain until October 5, before they enter the permanent displays there and in the National Gallery.
Works donated to the National Gallery and on display include:
Snow Scene at Argenteuil 1875 by Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Portrait of Joseph Brummer 1909 by Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)
Nude in the Bath 1925 by Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Girl with a Kitten 1947, Boy Smoking 1950-1 and The Painter's Mother 1972 by Lucian Freud (born 1922)