National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) played a major role three years ago in securing the funds to buy the artist’s Diana and Acteon for the nation.
Now the gallery is believed to be planning to launch a fund-raising campaign early next year with an appeal to major donors and the public to support the purchase of a second Titian painting Diana and Callisto.
The move to buy the first of the two Titian’s came after the painting’s owner, the Duke of Sutherland, threatened to sell the masterpiece on the open market.
But in just over a year the Duke’s deadline expires on buying the second of the pair.
The Scottish Government has dealt a severe blow to fundraising hopes by making it clear that public funds will not be available because of spending cuts.
The Titian paintings have been described by one expert as “simply the most beautiful pictures in the world”.
In the previous campaign to save the Titians for the nation in 2008, the Holyrood government chipped in around £10m rather than let the two be sold abroad to rich collectors, despite claims public money could be better spent.
Diana And Actaeon was then secured after several major funding bodies came together to raise the £50m asking price before the 31 December deadline.
At the time, the Duke made it clear that a similar amount would have to be raised by the end of December next year if Diana and Callisto is not to be sold off.
The NGS, which bought the painting along with the National Gallery of London, conceded the campaign would not be easy in the current economic climate.
“The vendor gave the galleries until December 2012 to exercise an option to purchase Titian’s Diana and Callisto,” said a spokesman in a joint statement. “Over the coming year the galleries will be exploring ways to achieve this, for example, in discussions and through approaches to grant-making trusts and individual supporters.
“We are, of course, intensely aware of the challenges and difficulties of raising funds at this moment, but both galleries are committed to making every effort to keeping this great masterpiece on public display alongside its pair, Diana and Actaeon.”
The two galleries are expected to approach funding bodies such as the The National Heritage Memorial Fund, which is lottery-funded and contributed £10m towards the purchase price of the first Titian. Money from private donors and the two galleries took the total to around £40m.
But it was the Scottish Government’s key contribution in December 2008, just days before the deadline which made the vital difference.
Now, however, the galleries have been told that they cannot rely on public funds. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Since 2008, successive culture ministers have made it clear that this government has made its contribution to the campaign.
“We wish the NGS every success with their efforts to secure the other Titian painting Diana and Callisto. However, with a 57 per cent cut to the culture portfolio capital budget over the next three years, there are no additional funds available for major purchases.”
Some politicians said the Scottish Government’s decision was correct at a time when public budgets were undergoing an unprecedented squeeze.
Ian Davidson, the Labour MP for Glasgow South West, who criticised the use of public money for the purchase of the first painting, said: “It would be absurd if at a time of economic difficulty, when many Scots are experiencing poverty and unemployment, if any public money was used to subsidise the lifestyle of the Duke of Sutherland by buying an ultra-expensive painting.
“If the fundraisers can find some rich person with more money than sense then so be it, but the public and the taxpayer should not be expected to contribute in any way at this time to this fundraising project.”
The paintings are part of the Bridgewater Collection, a collection of Old Masters including four Titian, three Raphaels, one Rembrandt and eight Poussins, which have been passed down the Egerton family to the current Duke of Sutherland. They have been on public view in the NGS since the end of the Second World War.
But the 7th duke put the paintings up for sale after he decided to review its worth in relation to the family’s overall assets. The collection was recently valued at more than £1 billion, with the two Titians expected to fetch £300m – three times the price offered to the national galleries – on the open market.
But the possible loss of the paintings sparked a outcry in the art world when it was announced in 2008. Luminaries such as Dame Vivenne Westwood said that if “politicians were cultured, they wouldn’t be spending money on the Olympics, but instead rescuing these pictures.”
A group of 60 leading British artists including Tracey Emin, David Hockney, and Damien Hirst also wrote a letter in support of the campaign.
Author Alexander McCall Smith said that saving the paintings had become a matter of national pride, as it was unusual for such a small country to have such international treasures.