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Fitzwilliam Museum set to acquire masterpiece as joint £3.9m fundraising campaign with the Art Fund
Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665), Extreme Unction, oil on canvas, 95.5 x 121cm.

CAMBRIDGE.- A campaign by the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Art Fund to raise £3.9m to enable the museum to acquire Nicolas Poussin’s masterpiece Extreme Unction (c. 1638-40) has reached a successful conclusion with the help of a substantial grant of £3,021,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the acquisition and outreach work, and almost £1m in donations from members of the public and charitable organisations.

Supporters of the Fitzwilliam Museum gave a total of £692,000 including significant funds from Friends of the Fitzwilliam. As well as giving a grant of £100,000, the Art Fund also raised funds through contributions from nearly 3,000 members, bringing in an additional £142,000. The Museum and the Art Fund are grateful for the support of a number of trusts and foundations.

These hugely generous donations and grants mean that the Fitzwilliam Museum can now take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity provided by HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme to acquire the painting for £3.9m instead of its market value of £14m.

The acquisition of the painting for the nation has received resounding support throughout the campaign, not least that of the National Gallery where it has been on display for the majority of the campaign, and will remain until 11 November. Thereafter it will be moved to Cambridge and be exhibited in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Octagon Gallery from early December.

The Museum has ambitious and innovative plans to exhibit the painting in its permanent galleries and in the context of temporary exhibitions over the coming years. It also plans to develop a touring exhibition project in collaboration with galleries and museums across the country, so that this remarkable work can be seen and enjoyed in the context of collections nationwide. In tandem with these displays, the Museum will stage talks and seminars, and create a series of digital resources which will contribute in significant ways to the understanding and appreciation of the painting. Extreme Unction will enhance the Museum’s existing programme of learning and outreach in unparalleled ways; in particular, it will resonate with the universality of its central theme – the marking of the passing from life to death. The HLF grant includes £79,250 towards this work.

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Extreme Unction is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful Old Master which has influenced generations of artists. However, it’s not just about aesthetics and we were impressed with the Fitzwilliam and Art Fund’s dynamic fundraising campaign and their desire to seize the moment and secure the painting on behalf of the nation. Combining these factors meant the Heritage Lottery Fund was unanimous in awarding a grant of over £3 million which will give an immense boost to the museum’s prospects of acquiring this painting.”

David Scrase, Acting Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, commented: “We are extremely grateful to the thousands of individuals and the many charities and organisations that have given so generously to this campaign. We would like especially to thank the Art Fund for their vital early encouragement, the National Gallery for their support, and the Heritage Lottery Fund for ultimately making it all possible. Now this masterpiece will be available to all, transforming our existing collections at the Fitzwilliam. We are absolutely thrilled.”

Dr Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “Once again I have been delighted by the generosity of the public and, in particular, of Art Fund members who stepped forward to safeguard this masterpiece and bring it into the public domain. We also applaud the HLF's immense commitment to the campaign and for contributing so decisively to its success. Thank you to all those who made this possible - including Nicholas Penny and the National Gallery for supporting the appeal through a special display of the work in London. Above all, many congratulations to the Fitzwilliam Museum for securing this most important acquisition for the nation.”

The painting is currently owned by The 11th Duke of Rutland’s 2000 Settlement. Robert Holden Ltd., London Fine Art agents, have been instrumental in the transaction.

Extreme Unction will remain on display at the National Gallery in London until Sunday 11 November 2012.

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