Detail from The Monarch of the Glen, c.1851, Edwin Landseer (1802 - 73), oil on canvas

NGS strikes deal to save Monarch of the Glen from auction

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 23.11.2016
Institution hopes to raise £4m to purchase painting at half price
The popular Scottish oil painting Monarch of the Glen (c.1851), by Edwin Landseer, could pass into public hands after the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) struck a deal with the painting’s owner, the drinks giant Diageo, to prevent it from being sold at auction.
Diageo has agreed to donate half the value of the painting, which is worth £8m, to the nation, giving NGS an opportunity to fundraise for the remaining half. The company had been planning to sell the painting at Christie’s as part of a wider drive to dispose of its non-core assets.

NGS has launched a fundraising campaign secure the £4m it needs to bring the painting into its collection. The work has been on loan to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh for the past 17 years.

John Leighton, the director general of NGS, said the agreement with Diageo represented a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the public to acquire the work, which depicts a red stag and has been widely used in marketing materials for a number of well known products, including Glenfiddich whisky and Pears Soap.

Leighton said: “The Monarch of the Glen is an iconic image which is famous across the world. The ideal home for such an important and resonant picture is the Scottish National Gallery where it can be enjoyed and admired by millions of visitors in the context of the nation’s unrivalled collection of Scottish, British and European art.”

But some public figures in Scotland have expressed concern about the acquisition of the painting and the partnership with Diageo.

The broadcaster and commentator Lesley Riddoch – who recently acted as host for the Museums Association conference in Glasgow – questioned why Diageo, which posted a profit of £2.24bn this year, had not donated the painting completely.

In an opinion piece published in the Scotsman, Riddoch raised concern that the deal was a PR exercise for the company, saying: “Cynics may wonder if Diageo’s ‘gracious’ offer was cleverly timed to offset bad publicity over the Scotch Whisky Association’s decision to challenge minimum alcohol pricing in the Supreme Court.”

Riddoch also pointed out that the Scottish public’s view of the painting was not wholly positive. “For many Scots the picture represents the command, destiny, entitlement and enduring power of a landowning elite for whom deer and sheep were more important than local people,” she wrote.

Riddoch said, however, that she didn’t believe the NGS should abort the purchase, but called on the institution to unpack some of the more complex issues raised by its history when curating the work.

She said: “The Monarch offers Scots a chance to explore long-suppressed tensions about ownership, class, clearance and identity. It would be too simple, too boring and downright inauthentic to simply hang the Monarch in a gallery with a few notes about the artist.”