A parliamentary question has revealed the astonishing range of gifts received by UK national museums in the past five years. The lists include numerous surprises—such as a pair of trousers once worn by a museum chairman. (The trousers were donated by Lord Lewin, a former chairman of the National Maritime Museum, and were those of his uniform as Admiral of the Fleet.) The British Museum acquired a coconut dance bra from Tahiti.
Altogether, gifts valued at £193m were received. Of this figure, £147m (76%) was accounted for by a single museum—Tate—and this may help explain why the parliamentary question was tabled. It was put by Lord Myners, the chairman of the Tate until October 2008.
It has also emerged that Lord Myners is to give away much of the contemporary art collection he has built up with his wife. According to The Sunday Times, he has works by Mark Wallinger, Cornelia Parker and Roger Hiorns. Myners, who intends to donate works to other public collections, is calling on the government to offer fiscal incentives to encourage donations.
Tate, £146.6m: its director Nick Serota has been astonishingly successful at soliciting gifts of works of art. Their value has fluctuated widely from year to year: £6m (2005-06), £3.9m (2006-07), £63.1m (2007-08), £64m (2008-09) and £9.6m (2009-10). Two of the figures result from exceptional events. 2007-08 saw the bequest of Simon Sainsbury, who left 13 paintings to the Tate. These included Bonnard’s Nude in the Bath, 1925 (£10m); Bacon’s Study for a Portrait, 1952 (£9m); and Freud’s Girl with a Kitten, 1947 (£5m). Among other gifts that year were two Damien Hirsts, donated by the artist: The Acquired Inability to Escape, 1991 (£4m), and Mother and Child Divided, 2007 (£3m). The 2008-09 figure included the gift element of 725 contemporary works from Anthony d’Offay jointly presented to the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland for the Artist Rooms project (the total value of the Tate’s share of the works was £62.5m). That year also saw the donation by Hockney of his work, Bigger Trees Near Warter, 2007 (£10m), which is next due to go on show at York Art Gallery (10 February-22 June).
Victoria and Albert Museum, £10.3m: a total of 942 gifts of works of art were received.
National Gallery, £9.6m: Paul Huet’s Trees in the Park at Saint-Cloud, around 1820, was donated by the Lishawa family in 2005-06. No gifts were received in 2006-07 (or 2008-09). In 2007-08 Girolamo Macchietti’s The Charity of St Nicholas of Bari, 1555-60, came under an acceptance in lieu arrangement. Three paintings were bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury: Gauguin’s Bowl of Fruit and Tankard, 1890, and Monet’s Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875, and Water-Lilies, Setting Sun, around 1907. Telemaco Signorini’s Sketch for Straw Weavers at Settignano, around 1880, was presented by Luciana Forti. Bosschaert’s A Still-life of Flowers, 1609-10, came in 2009-10 under an acceptance in lieu arrangement.
British Museum, £6.4m: annual gifts of art and artefacts ranged from £0.7m to £2.2m, with a total of 2,700 items during the five-year period. Along with the expected objects were a number of surprises—such as a 10 trillion dollar Zimbabwe banknote.
Imperial War Museum, £0.6m: altogether 3,277 items were donated. Items included the bomb-damaged Baghdad car that forms the centrepiece of Jeremy Deller’s It Is What It Is, 2007.
• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper under the headline "Donations to the Tate leave others in the shade"