Exeter wins bid to save Rolle's portrait

PUBLISHED: 10:21 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 10 June 2010

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

A SUCCESSFUL appeal by Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum 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, Devon County Council and FEMAG, the Museum Friends.

The acquisition is a major addition to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum's (RAMM) fine art collection.

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, from 1708 to 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 his 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.

£339,000 was raised for the purchase and display of the painting. The HLF awarded £189,000 to support both the purchase of the portrait and a programme of activities and events. The UK's leading independent art charity, The Art Fund gave a grant of £50,000 and an extra £10,822, which includes funds raised from a private benefactor and a public appeal - fronted by The Art Fund supporter Joanna Lumley -, when pieces of a giant replica jigsaw of the portrait were sold at the Olympia International Art and Antiques Fair last June. The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund contributed £50,000, Devon County Council £18,000 and FEMAG £10,000 with the balance coming from RAMM's bequest fund.

Councillor Kevin Mitchell, Lead Councillor for Environment and Leisure, 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."

Julie Cooper, HLF Regional Manager for the South West said: "This acquisition secures a major work of both national and international significance.

"This work by Pompeo Batoni has a huge significance for both Exeter and the whole of Devon.

"The acquisition of the painting will make a contribution to RAMM's wonderful collection and enable visitors to further understand the history of one of Devon's great families.

"The retention of this work within the County will mean that local people will be able to continue to enjoy and explore their heritage for many generations to come."

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.

"Walter's beautifully painted velvet and fur robe conveys a sense of his wealth and power.

"The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is just the place for this very fine painting and I'm delighted that The Art Fund has helped the museum secure it."

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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