Art in lieu of tax
Have you ever wondered how we have been able to acquire some of our grandest properties, such as the magnificent Georgian mansion of Saltram or the Elizabethan architectural masterpiece of Hardwick Hall? Or how we are able to furnish the interiors of such properties with preeminent artwork as well as historically accurate décor?
The answer is – more often than not – with vital support from a century-old tax clause called the “Acceptance in Lieu” (AIL) Scheme.
Administered by Arts Council England, AIL allows people to transfer objects of cultural and national importance into public ownership in lieu of paying inheritance tax. The scheme has secured permanent homes for these treasures in public collections – treasures that might otherwise have been bought at auction and taken abroad.
Now, over 100 years after its inception, AIL’s largest beneficiary is the National Trust, and is our biggest source for collections acquisitions, both in terms of numbers of objects and value.
Thirteen properties have been allocated to the National Trust in lieu of tax since 1947. Recent allocations include Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, a supreme example of English Baroque architecture, and the demesne of Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland, a vast expanse of countryside and parkland that surround the spectacular house and gardens.
Thanks to AIL, we have also received outstanding works of art, including Anne Valler-Coster’s still-life Attributes of Hunting and Gardening, Giovanni Bellini’s The Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist, and a group of 35 paintings by Sir Winston Churchill, the largest single allocation by value to date.
Support from AIL has further ensured that personal belongings – known as chattels – from a particular house can remain in situ or be displayed in a historically relevant property. A group of such chattels has been recently allocated to Mount Stewart, including an early twentieth-century portrait of the Marchioness of Londonderry, two pairs of prehistoric giant deer antlers that had been preserved in a peat bog and an ancient Greek tombstone. The preservation and display of such objects plays a vital role in maintaining the spirit of place in our properties, allowing the visitor to experience the interiors as they were intended.
It is not an exaggeration to say that without AIL, we could not have grown to boast our world-class collection of art, historical objects and stately homes to be enjoyed by future generations forever.