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British artists call for government to help save Titian paintings

Contemporary artist Tracey Emin paid a visit to 10 Downing Street on Monday to drop off a petition signed by many of the U.K.'s top artists, calling for the British government's help to keep two 16th century masterpieces from leaving the country.
Artist Tracey Emin poses with a reproduction of Titian's Diana and Actaeon on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street on Monday. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Contemporary artist Tracey Emin paid a visit to 10 Downing Street on Monday to drop off a petition signed by many of the U.K.'s top artists, calling for the British government's help to keep two 16th century masterpieces from leaving the country.

Lucien Freud, Damien Hirst and David Hockney are among the art luminaries who signed Emin's letter, which was accompanied by a smaller reproduction of Titian's Diana and Actaeon — the first artwork they hope to save and currently on display at the National Gallery in London.

The two paintings, Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, are "among the finest works in private hands in the world," the letter states.

"The paintings have been in Britain for more than two centuries on continuous public view at the National Gallery of Scotland since the collection was placed there in 1945, inspiring generations of visitors," the artists said.

"We also believe that, in challenging times, the heritage of the past and the art of the present are more important than ever."

Duke offers works for fraction of the price

Earlier this year, the Duke of Sutherland revealed his intention to sell the two Renaissance pieces — both from a mythological series that Titian created for King Philip II of Spain in the mid-16th century.

Diana and Actaeon is currently on display at the National Gallery in London, alongside Titian's sequel, The Death of Actaeon, which officials acquired thanks to a successful public fundraising appeal in 1972. ((National Gallery/Associated Press))
The Duke said in August he would give the British and Scottish national galleries the first opportunity to purchase Diana and Actaeon for about $97.6 million Cdn (less than half the painting's estimated worth of approximately $275 million on the open market).

If the funds are successfully raised by the Dec. 31 deadline, he has pledged to offer Diana and Callisto for a similar price in 2012.

Less than two months to go in the fundraising campaign, officials at the National Galleries told British media they felt confident they could reach the target, despite the global credit crisis.

Since launching a well-publicized campaign about the paintings, gallery officials said they have received tremendous support from members of the public, who have sent in cheques for whatever amount they can manage, and at a host of fundraising events.

The Art Fund, a U.K. charity that buys art for display to the British public, also pledged about $1.9 million Cdn early on.

For now, organizers have kept the total amount raised under wraps, but further details are expected to be revealed sometime in December.

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