LONDON.- The Art Fund
today announced its support of the Fitzwilliam Museums Public Appeal to acquire Nicolas Poussins masterpiece Extreme Unction (c. 1638-40). The painting, the value of which has been agreed at £14m, has been made available to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for just under £3.9m, thanks to H.M. Governments Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme. Thus far, nearly 10% of this target has been pledged, and the Art Fund and the Fitzwilliam Museum have today begun their campaign to raise the rest of the money.
One of the surviving Seven Sacraments painted in Rome for the renowned scholar and connoisseur Cassiano dal Pozzo, Extreme Unction (Final Anointing) has long been considered by critics to be the finest work from one of the most remarkable series of paintings ever conceived. It depicts a dying man being anointed with oil in accordance with the rites of the early Church. The painting is of critical importance to the study of western art. Poussins work has influenced many great painters from David and Ingres to Cézanne and even Picasso, and continues to inspire artists to this day.
Extreme Unction is currently owned by The 11th Duke of Rutland's 2000 Settlement. As a result of the sale in 2011 for £15m of Poussins Ordination to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the Trustees incurred inheritance tax. To pay for this the Trustees have offered Extreme Unction through H.M. Governments Acceptance-in-Lieu system, with a condition that it be allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum. As the paintings value is greater than the tax which arises from the sale of Ordination, a net payment is due to the Trustees from the Fitzwilliam of £3,875,917, if the acquisition is to proceed. The Fitzwilliam has only until early November 2012 to raise the necessary funds to acquire the painting.
Dr. Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, said, This would be the most significant old master painting acquired by the Museum in nearly a century and would transform our representation of French art and of the classical tradition through a masterpiece by the greatest French painter of the seventeenth-century. It is a destination painting that will both benefit from the context of our great European collections and add greatly to the experience and programmes that we can offer the public. It will be a uniquely rich resource for teaching at all levels, drawing as it does in style and subject matter from ancient Roman art, the rituals of the early Christian Church, and Poussins own artistic grounding in France and Rome. A national and international treasure, it would be very much at home at the Fitzwilliam, and we are delighted that the Art Fund has joined with us in seeking to acquire it for Cambridge.
Extreme Unction is currently on display in Gallery 3 at the Fitzwilliam Museum for all to see. Admission to the Museum is free. The Fitzwilliam also has ambitious plans to create wide-ranging public programmes around the themes of the painting, for a wide public of all ages and backgrounds.
Art Fund Director Dr. Stephen Deuchar commented: This is a truly unique opportunity to acquire a painting of such immense importance. Even for a museum collection as fine as the Fitzwilliams, this great Poussin would be a transformative acquisition. We salute the determined efforts of the Museum to acquire it for the public, and we urge anyone who cares about art to dig into their pockets and give what they can to help us reach our target.
The Museum is appealing to all of its supporters to help in raising funds, including the Friends of the Fitzwilliam. The Museum has also applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund and together with the Art Fund will approach various other charitable institutions to contribute to the Appeal. Organisations should contact Development Officer Sue Rhodes at the Museum directly on 01223 332939; individuals can send a contribution in the form of a cheque made payable to the Fitzwilliam Museum Development Trust to: The Development Office, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RB, or give online at www.artfund.org/poussin