The National Portrait Gallery launched an urgent public appeal for £1.6 million yesterday to buy one of the nation's most romantic portraits, of the metaphysical poet John Donne, to prevent it being sold abroad.In addition to the story itself, I was struck by the following:
The gallery and its supporters, including the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, say that the picture of the poet, posing as a melancholy lover and painted around 1595, is of such national importance that its loss would be "a catastrophe".
Although they admit that a five-month race to raise the money may be "touch and go", they have ruled out asking for lottery help because of the Heritage Lottery Fund's poor record on saving works of art.There's also a charming footnote in the history of the painting:
Last year the fund, which recently told St Paul's Cathedral that it did not appeal to a "wide enough range of people" when it applied for a £9 million grant, allocated just £2.5 million of its £300 million-plus annual "pot" to save works of art.
Donne bequeathed the portrait on his death in 1631 to their forebear, Robert Kerr, the 1st Marquess, who was a close friend. It has remained in the family for 375 years, hanging at their homes, Monteviot in Roxburghshire and Newbattle Abbey, outside Dalkeith, ever since.BTW, Duns Scotia? Surely that's more usually rendered 'Duns Scotus'.
Almost humorously - probably due to one of the early marquesses mishearing Duns for Donne - it was misattributed as a portrait of the mediaeval poet Duns Scotia for much of that time. The error was corrected by the National Portrait Gallery itself, but only in 1959.