By Cara Sulieman
THE ROYAL Bank of Scotland is planning to show off its private art collection after bowing to public pressure.
The collection, thought to be worth millions of pounds, was formed when RBS merged with NatWest in 2000.
But since then, the financial giant has only allowed work to be shown in two exhibitions, the last one being in 2003.
It has now been revealed that they are in discussions with the National Galleries of Scotland to show some of the work in the future.
More than 2,200 works of art
There are no solid plans in place yet, but it is a step forward for the bank who have kept their collection under wraps for the last six years.
The bank, which is 70 per cent owned by the taxpayer, has revealed that it owns more than 2,200 pieces of art work, most of which is currently hanging in offices and branches across the country.
But 300 pieces are in storage and only one on long-term loan to the Ulster Bank in Dublin, despite claims that it regularly lends work to galleries and museums.
There have been calls for the collection to be put on public display after the bank received a £20 billion bailout from the Treasury.
And it seems that the institution has bowed to public pressure, promising to consider options for public exhibitions.
“Actively engaged in discussions”
A spokeswoman for RBS said: “We are determined to fulfil the responsibilities that come with the support we have been privileged to receive and that come with our wider position in society.
“To that end we are actively engaged in discussions around the art collection and considering options for sharing this more widely than we have in the past.”
The bank refused to give out a list of the art it owns, or a total valuation for the collection, but their spokeswoman said that they had been told that they owned ten pieces of “national museum quality”.
This included work by Sir William McTaggart, LS Lowry and Johann Zaffany, whose 1766 portrait of the banker Andrew Drummond is one of the most valuable pieces it owns.
They said they also own a further 10 piece of “historical importance”.
For many, the move is not just good news for the public, but also a reassurance that the collection has not been sold off or destroyed.
Colin Tweedy, chairman of Arts and Business, and influential charity that promotes culture and the arts in business, said that the bank’s silence surrounding their collection had been “worrying”.
He said: “I was worried the collection had been thrown away and damaged.
“My view is that this is something they should be proud of, instead of being embarrassed.
“It is not only a public duty but also a business opportunity, because people will see some wonderful British work and realise it is owned by RBS.”
A spokesman for the department of culture in Westminster welcomed the move, saying: “We want the British public to have access to great works of art, whether they are in public or privately owned collections.
“We would encourage any business which owns a corporate art collection to enable it to be seen by the public where practicable.”
And Minister for Culture Michael Russell also welcomed the plans, saying: “I believe there is a public duty on RBS, which is now of course largely owned by the taxpayer, to share its collection and make it accessible to people across the country.
“I know that the National Galleries of Scotland is in early discussions with RBS and I hope an agreement of mutual benefit can be achieved – increasing public access to great art is something that this Government will always support.”
A spokeswoman from the National Galleries of Scotland confirmed that they were in talks with the bank.
She said: “The NGS is having exploratory discussions with RBS on how we can help make their art collection more accessible across Scotland.”
It is believed that the RBS collection also includes paintings by David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Joshua Reynolds
The bank has confirmed that it sold work from the 1,400 pieces it inherited from NatWest, including a painting by Frank Auerbach and a Samuel Poploe painting depicting Tantallon Castle, near Edinburgh.
The last time RBS showed any of the work was when it lent 40 paintings by Scottish artists to the Lowry Gallery in Manchester.