§ EARL CADOGAN
asked Her Majesty's Government, Whether it was true that some of the most valuable pictures of the Blenheim collection had been offered for sale to the country by the Duke of Marlborough; and, if so, whether such offer bad been finally declined by Her Majesty's Government? Since he had 1288 come down to the House he had heard that a legal decision had been given upon the question whether the Duke of Marl-borough had a right to dispose of those pictures. That decision left very little doubt that those pictures, in some form, or other, would before long be offered for sale. Under these circumstances, and considering the historical and artistic value of the pictures, he ventured to hope that the noble Earl would inform the House whether any negotiations had been carried on between the Government and their owner, and whether the correspondence could be produced for the information of their Lordships without detriment to the Public Service or to the negotiations. He would further express a hope that the Government would not come to a final decision in the sense of refusing to treat for the purchase of these valuable works of art until after the Whitsuntide Recess.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
It is perfectly true that the Duke of Marlborough is prepared to sell the pictures at Blenheim—12 for £420,000, or five for £173,250. The offer was communicated to the Director and the Trustees of the National Gallery, and the reply of Her Majesty's Government to the Trustees was, that the Government were prepared to entertain and consider with care any definite proposal which might be made for the sale and purchase of these valuable pictures, but that the scale of price asked by the Duke of Marlborough was excessive. The Trustees were further asked to state a sum at which they valued any picture the purchase of which they recommended. I conceive it would be inconvenient if the negotiations for the purchase of pictures with a Government agent were published and placed in the possession of other agents.
§ EARL CADOGAN
said, he would again say that he hoped the Government would not come to any final decision until after the Whitsuntide Recess.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I very much doubt whether the negotiations for the sale of any of the pictures will be brought to a close within a fortnight.
§ VISCOUNT HARDINGE
said, that, as a Trustee, he wished to mention that the pictures in question comprised the famous Ansidei Raffaelle—an equestrian portrait of Charles I.—by Vandyck; two full-length portraits by Rubens, probably the finest pictures he ever painted; also other 1289 allegorical pictures by Rubens. The Government had declined the offers, and there did not at present seem any great chance of the negotiations ending successfully in a national purchase; but the letter of the Government to the Trustees did not preclude further negotiation. The responsibility of recommending a purchase rested with the Trustees. Undoubtedly, the prices asked were high, but the pictures were unique; and, in every way, it would be deplorable if they were allowed to be bought by another country.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, there was a strong feeling at Oxford that these treasures should not, if it could be avoided, be allowed to leave the country, as works of art, books, and manuscripts had done within the last two years.