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Seilern Collection

Volume 14: debated on Monday 30 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had concerning the project for the sale of works of art which form part of the collection of the late Count Seilern, which he bequeathed to London university.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to ensure that the collection of the late Count Seilern is kept together.

I have been in touch with the parties concerned, and I am glad to say that an agreement has now been reached whereby, through contributions from the national heritage memorial fund and the Victoria and Albert museum, a major picture from the collection by Rubens will be purchased for the Courtauld Institute of the University of London. This will enable the executors to meet the residual liabilities of the estate, and the Courtauld to keep the collection intact.

May I extend my heartiest congratulations on the happiest possible outcome of such benevolent co-operation? Will the right hon. Gentleman now extend the same spirit and the same exercise to the preservation of the British film archives—the nitrate stock, which is literally dying day by day? Historic films are disappearing which we shall never be able to resurrect. Could not the right hon. Gentleman apply the same sort of exercise to this really critical problem?

I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I know that he has played a part in all this, and I am grateful for what he has done.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the film archives. I suggest, with respect, that although this is an extremely important question, it is another one.

I should like to join in extending congratulations to my right hon. Friend. Will he now fortify success by ensuring that a future home for the collection is found in the State rooms of Somerset House, which are particularly suited both to the Rubens and the Tiepolos, which are the particular glory of the good count's collection? Will my right hon. Friend, in the meantime, as a one-off exercise, arrange for a special showing in the House of the most appropriate of all the Tiepolos, "The Allegory of the Power of Eloquence"?

I should have to consult those responsible before giving a firm undertaking. I shall write to my hon. Friend. I hope very much that a home can be found which will enable both the Courtauld collection and the Prince's Gate collection to be displayed in full. Somerset House is an excellent idea, although it is not my responsibility. I shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend. Does not this underline the necessity for the Government's early acceptance of the Select Committee report on works of art, published as long ago as March?

I note that all parties in the House are anxious to see acceptance of the report. The Government are considering the matter with great care, and I hope that an announcement will not be delayed too long.