£15-million donation means that Zurbaráns can stay

30 March 2011

by Ed Beavan

THE 12 paintings by Zurbarán at Auck­land Castle have been saved, thanks to a £15-million donation from an investment manager.

The Church Commissioners an­nounced yesterday that they will reverse their decision to sell the paintings by the Spanish artist Fran­cisco de Zurbarán, after a multi-million-pound gift by Jonathan Ruffer, an investment manager, to set up a new charitable trust to keep the paintings in the north-east. An­other £1 million has been com­mit-ted by the Rothschild Founda­tion.

Last year, the Commissioners an­nounced that they needed to sell the 17th-century paintings, which depict Jacob and his sons, in order to raise funds for ministry and mission (News, 12 November). The move was criticised by people in the region, heri­tage figures and clerics, including the former Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright.

There are now plans to turn Auckland Castle, which has housed the paintings since 1756, into a “leading public heritage site” for the north-east. This would involve giving “much greater public access” to the castle grounds, although further funding is required for this.

The Commissioners are con­tinuing discussions with Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Art Fund, and the National Gallery, regarding the future of Auckland Castle.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, acting chairman of the Church Commis­sioners, praised Mr Ruffer’s genero­sity. It “has made that rarest of scenarios possible: the best of both worlds”, he said.

“There is now an opportunity to create a leading arts and heritage centre in the north-east, and a chance for both the Church of England and the Zurbarán Trust to contribute to the wider spiritual, social, and eco­nomic regeneration across the region.”

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