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Houghton Hall

Acceptance in lieu deal worth £9.3 million agreed for historic house furniture

Houghton Hall’s William Kent furniture to remain in house but to belong to Victoria & Albert Museum

London

The government has agreed to the one of the largest Acceptance in Lieu arrangements, “saving for the nation” important furniture from Houghton Hall. The deal, which will satisfy £9,384,000 of inheritance tax, involves the contents of three state rooms designed by William Kent—the Green Velvet Bedchamber, the Tapestry Dressing Room and the Embroidered Bedchamber. The furniture includes two great State beds and two suites of seat furniture, as well as three sets of important tapestries. Built in the 1720s by prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, the Norfolk mansion is Britain’s greatest Palladian house.

The Acceptance in Lieu arrangement has taken more than a decade to conclude. The Sixth Marquess of Cholmondeley died in 1990, and since then his film director son has been trying to settle the tax bill and to raise money to look after the house. This has involved the £10 million sale of Holbein’s “A lady with a squirrel” to the National Gallery in 1992, the In Lieu transfer to the National Gallery of Gainsborough’s “Portrait of the artist and his wife and child” in 1994 and the sale of £21 million worth of pictures and furniture at Christie’s the same year.

Negotiations on accepting the Houghton furniture were complicated partly because of their high value, which meant that the deal was scrutinised particularly carefully by the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Arrangements for conserving and displaying the furniture were also complex. They are to be allocated immediately to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will be in responsible for conservation.

But despite the change of ownership, the furniture is to remain in the state rooms at Houghton, the setting for which they were designed. The V&A has therefore entered into a loan agreement with Lord Cholmondeley. Until now the house has been open to visitors three afternoons a week between Easter and September, but opening hours are to be increased, giving greater public access to furniture now owned by the nation. However, hours are only being extended slightly, because of concerns that much greater exposure to light would damage the furnishings, which still retain their original upholstery. The conservation-versus-access issue has therefore been resolved.

Altogether, items worth a total of £12,238,000 were accepted in lieu last month. In addition to the Houghton furniture, these included Constable’s “Harwich lighthouse” (£840,000 of tax), the archives of the Earls of Derby (£815,000), Subleyras’ “Diana and Endymion” (£630,000), the Eliot family archive of Port Eliot (£235,000) and the archive of Victorian artist John Bunney (£235,000). Only once since Acceptance in Lieu was introduced has the total tax satisfied for an entire year ever exceeded last month’s total: £25 million in 1998-89, when a backlog of cases was dealt with. This included Van Dyck’s “Portrait of Abbé Scaglia”, which satisfied £9,450,000 in tax, only marginally more than the Houghton furniture.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Acceptance in lieu deal worth £9.3 million agreed'