Peter Paul Rubens after Titian, “Charles V in Armour” (1600–1605)

Say you were a British multimillionaire looking for a sizable tax break. Donating art to the government may just be the answer. The “acceptance in lieu” and “cultural gifts” schemes — established in 1909 and 2013 respectively — provide methods for wealthy collectors to reduce their inheritance, income, and capital gains taxes by as much as 30 percent of an object’s value.

Such programs have paid dividends for the country’s cultural cache. Arts Council England (ACE) reports that £58.6 million (~$72.3 million USD) worth of items has been handed over to the United Kingdom in lieu of taxes over the last year. The government-funded group has said that its new collection of 46 objects includes a painting of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by Peter Paul Rubens, a terrifying sculpture of a flayed pregnant woman by Damien Hirst, and an elaborate diamond necklace from Cartier.

The total value of objects is more than double that of the previous fiscal year and a record-breaking haul for the two schemes, which have been bundled together since 2013. In a statement, ACE chair Nicholas Serota called the programs “two hugely important ways for exceptional works of art, objects, manuscripts, and archives to enter public collections throughout the country — making a valuable contribution to local communities and enjoyed by millions.”

The Rubens painting will travel to the Royal Armouries in Leeds. According to the organization’s report, the painting is thought to reproduce a lost Titian portrait that once belonged to the Spanish royal collection. (Scholars believe the earlier master’s work was lost in a fire.) Rubens apparently held onto the painting until he died in 1640.

“Wretched War,” the Hirst sculpture of a pregnant woman, will go to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and provide a £90,000 (~$110,000 USD) tax cut to the artist’s former business manager, Frank Dunphy. Dunphy also handed over 73 drawings on placemats by Hirst made during their twice-weekly breakfast meetings at the Wolseley restaurant in London. That collection — stains included — will settle another £90,000 (~$110,000 USD) in taxes and is allocated to the British Museum.

Other strange objects in the ACE inventory include 450 antique medical and self-care objects like nipple shields made of ivory, silver, glass, wood, leather, and lead. That collection will permanently go to the Royal College of Physicians, which has held the unique items since 1996 and will settle £46,500 (~$57,400 USD) of tax.

However, the most expensive object on the list is a Bernardo Bellotto painting of “Venice on Ascension Day,” which provides £7 million (~$8.64 million) in tax breaks and will be allocated to the Audley End House in Essex.

“It is heartening to see that the list of first-time allocatees continues to grow,” said Edward Harley, who chairs the acceptance in lieu panel, “and that it has been a bumper year for high-value items going outside the capital.”

The tax schemes have especially benefited Britain’s local museums, which have received major works by artists like Lucian Freud in past years at a time when most local authorities are cutting funding for their cultural institutions.

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...

One reply on “Rubens and Hirst Among 46 Objects Donated to British Museums in £58.6 Million Tax Deal”

  1. And yet, in the US anyway, an artist can only write off the materials used, no matter the value of their art, when donating a piece to a nonprofit.

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