Yet again, another survey showing that the big national museums of Britain lack the spending power of many of their rivals in other parts of the world, particularly the USA.
At the same time though, they sit on vast stores of artefacts that they do not currently have the space to exhibit, many of which have never been exhibited.
It seems that the answer is clear – the museums should be allowed discretionary powers to deaccession items in their collections. This would not only remove them of some of their storage requirements, but provide them with the funding to make bigger purchases when required, to allow them to refine & enhance their collections. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be any immediate plans by the UK Government to relax the out of date anti-deaccessioning rules that form part of the charters of many of the country’s great institutions.
The Times 
The Times November 24, 2006
Art heritage at risk from lack of funds
Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has 70 times the purchasing power of the British Museum and more than eight times that of the National Gallery in London, according to a report.
Britain’s leading museums lag behind other world-class institutions in terms of the money available to spend on their collections, particularly when compared with those in America, France and the Netherlands.
The world’s four highest-spending museums are the Met and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Louvre in Paris and the Getty in Los Angeles.
Last year alone, the Met spent nearly $100 million (£53.4 million) on works for its collection, of which $50.4 million (£26.3 million) went on a single painting – Duccio’s Madonna and Child – twice the amount that the British Museum, Victoria & Albert, National Gallery and Tate spent all together.
MoMA spent $37.1 million (£20 million) – including $3.3 million (£1.7 million) on David Hockney’s landmark painting, Seated Woman Being Served Tea by Standing Companion, which it bought at Sotheby’s in London – four times more than the Tate across all its gallery sites. In Europe, the Louvre spent €25.2 million (£16.8 million) and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, €14.3 million (£9.7 million).
In contrast, the Victoria & Albert spent £1.3 million and the British Museum, despite being Britain’s second most visited free attraction, had £761,000 in its purchase funds. The research was conducted by The Art Fund, Britain’s largest art charity.
David Barrie, its director, said: “When we started the research, we had a sense that many museums and galleries in foreign countries were doing rather better than ours. But nobody had any data. It was all anecdotes and rumours. The picture that has emerged is worse than we suspected. These figures indicate a real sickness. If museums can’t collect, they will fail in one of their prime missions, and treasures will increasingly go abroad.
“We knew the Met was rich, but the idea that they could coolly fork out $100 million in one year is really startling. I would have guessed they had $40 million.” Warning that Britain’s best curators could be wooed to overseas museums, he added: “If the money cannot come from public funds, then steps must be taken to encourage private philanthropy through better tax incentives.”
Apart from the Getty, all the overseas museums polled received some government funding and all took advantage of the various tax incentives available in their respective countries. Museums placed at the top of the table benefit from multiple tax incentives or generous government funding – or, in the case of the French museums, a mix of both. Of the £53.4 million spent by the Met, 54 per cent was generated through cash donations thanks to 100 per cent tax breaks on donations to US museums.
In France, the Louvre received £10.6 million thanks to a tax incentive introduced in 2003 which allows businesses to donate funds for the purchase of national treasures in return for a 90 per cent reduction in their tax bill. In one such case, AXA donated £7.5 million to the Louvre to purchase Portrait du duc d’Orléans by Ingres and offset £6.7 million from its tax bill.
In contrast, British museums have watched helplessly as masterpieces with ever-increasing prices have gone overseas.
Earlier this year, the Tate could not buy William Blake’s rediscovered drawings for Robert Blair’s poem The Grave when they were auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York. One of them went to the Louvre for a record £868,000, but eight of the nineteen were left unsold.Everyone lost out. A significant collection was broken up and the owner received less than he would have done if he had sold to the Tate in the first place. It had offered £4.2 million.
The sale proceeds, £3.9 million, fell short of Sotheby’s minimum estimate of £6.8 million.
Shocked that museums are facing seven per cent cuts in their budgets, when they have already suffered a cut in the last five years, Mr Barrie called on ministers to take these “grim findings” seriously to avoid being blamed by future generations for having failed to support the nation’s heritage.
60 per cent
of Britain’s museums could not afford to allocate funds for collecting last year
Source: Times database