City set to brush up art collection

Die Harder by David Mach
Die Harder by David Mach
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WORKS of art from five different classic and contemporary artists are set to be snapped up for the city’s archives – costing between £4500 and £220,000.

The purchases by the city council will go on display in the City Art Centre in Market Street. However, most of the funding is coming from a bequest that was left to the city by Edinburgh art lover Jean F Watson and no taxpayers’ cash will be involved.

Councillors also hope to be able to secure grants from national bodies to acquire some of the more prestigious and expensive works of art.

Among the paintings that city council chiefs want to house in the City Art Centre is one work by Scottish artist Arthur Melville, who grew up in East Lothian and attended the Royal Scottish Academy schools in Edinburgh.

They want to buy either The Rialto or The Procession of Corpus Christi, two of the best-known paintings by Melville, who is considered one of the greatest watercolourists of his period, towards the end of the 19th century.

But the two paintings come with hefty price tags of £120,000 and £220,000 and it is hoped that grants can be secured from the National Fund for Acquisitions, The Art Fund and the Friends of the City Art Centre and Museums.

Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance at the city council, said: “Large watercolours by Melville rarely come on the open market and the council has waited for an opportunity to buy this type of work by Melville since 1999.”

The Rialto, which is being sold by Edinburgh-based Bourne Fine Art, is a view of the Grand Canal in Venice, painted in 1894. The Procession of Corpus Christi is being sold on behalf of a private client by Euan Mundy Fine Art in Glasgow and the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.

The council also wants to snap up a work by the celebrated artist David Mach from his Precious Light exhibition, which finishes at the City Art Centre later this month.

Other potential purchases include a 19th-century painting of the old Craigleith Quarry by William Kidd and two works made with sawdust by modern Scottish artist, Karla Black.

A committee of councillors that was first set up in 1961 to manage the Jean F Watson Bequest will meet on Wednesday to approve the purchases.

All purchases have to be either by artists who were born, are practising in, or have some association with Edinburgh.

Councillor Deidre Brock, the city’s culture and leisure leader, said: “We’re hugely fortunate in Edinburgh to have this bequest from a private individual which allows us to add to it. The Jean F Watson bequest also helps us to attract grants from a wide range of external sources, such as the National Art Fund.”

Jean F Watson was an art lover who bequethed significant sums of money – the actual amount never known – to create a collection of Scottish art for the city.

One of the first works that councillors agreed to commission was a bronze bust of Miss Watson by Edinburgh College of Art sculptor Eric Schilsky.

Since then, more than 900 paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and prints have been added to the collection.

The annual purchases are largely made using interest from the fund. For 2011-12, there is £61,697 available to spend.