Fitzwilliam Museum buys £4m Poussin masterpiece

Tristram Fane Saunders - Deputy News Editor 8 November 2012

The Fitzwilliam Museum has raised £3.9 million pounds to buy Nicolas Poussin’s painting, ‘Extreme Unction.’ The painting is part of Poussin’s first ‘Seven Sacraments’ series (1637 -1647), widely considered one of the most important sets of religious paintings in the western world.

The painting is being sold by the estate of David Manners, the 11th Duke of Rutland. Although the painting’s market value is £14m, the Fitzwilliam are able buy if for just £3.9m through the government’s ‘Acceptance in Lieu’ scheme – a tax provision under which inheritance tax can be written off in exchange for “objects of national importance.”

The necessary £3.9m has been raised through a combination of National Lottery funding and private donations.

Poussin’s original ‘Seven Sacraments’ series was wildly successful in the painter’s lifetime. As a result, Poussin was commissioned to paint a second, similar series five years later.

The second series is currently on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, but the first series – from which ‘Extreme Unction’ is taken – is incomplete. One painting was acquired by the American National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, one was destroyed in a fire at Belvoir Castle in 1816, and the five remaining paintings are in the possession of the Duke of Rutland.

‘Extreme Unction’ is currently hanging in the National Gallery, but will be soon be moved to the Fitzwilliam Museum, where it will be exhibited in the Octagon Gallery from early December.

Tristram Fane Saunders – Deputy News Editor