Eighteenth century masterpeice to remain in the South West

PUBLISHED: 10:45 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 10 June 2010

A SUCCESSFUL appeal by Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) has saved an 18th century masterpiece for the South West.

A SUCCESSFUL appeal by Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) has saved an 18th century masterpiece for the South West.

The portrait of long serving Exeter MP, John Rolle Walter, by Pompeo Batoni, once dubbed the Last Old Master, can now be enjoyed by regional art lovers for generations to come following support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), The Art Fund, The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Devon County Council and FEMAG, the Museum Friends.

The acquisition is a major addition to RAMM's fine art collection. Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787) was seen by his contemporaries as one of the greatest artists of his age. The 1753 portrait was painted in Rome, while John Rolle Walter was on the Grand Tour.

John Rolle Walter went on to become MP for Exeter between 1754 and 1776, and MP for Devon from 1776 until his death in 1779.

In the 18th century his family were the dominant landowners in Devon.

Exeter City councillor Kevin Mitchell said: "It is wonderful that this magnificent painting will remain in the South West where it so obviously belongs. We are grateful to all the funders for their generous support, ensuring that our regional heritage remains available locally."

David Barrie, director of The Art Fund, said: "This portrait by one of the most highly regarded and fashionable Italian portrait painters of the 18th century vividly depicts one of the more colourful West Country political figures of the day."

Devon County Council's executive member for culture, councillor Sheila Hobden, said: "We are delighted to support the purchase of this significant work of art and important piece of Devon history. Its acquisition means that people for generations to come will be able to see the work and to find out more about the Rolle family."

The painting was removed from auction by Great Torrington Almshouse, Town Lands and Poors Charities earlier this year to allow RAMM to raise funds to buy it.

Because RAMM itself is currently closed for its major refurbishment and extension, the portrait will make its first public appearance at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery from September 2009 to March 2010. The painting will then be the focus of a special exhibition at RAMM when it reopens in 2010 and move to Burton Art Gallery, Bideford in 2011.

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