A MASTERPIECE worth more than £1m by one of the world's most famous portrait painters has been clinched in a coup for Canterbury.
Security has been stepped up around the 17th Century work by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, won as a result of top secret negotiations with a leading Old Masters art dealer.
The portrait is unveiled on April 8 when it goes on permanent display at the Royal Museum and Art Gallery in the Beaney Institute.
Dated around 1638, the oil on canvas portrait depicts local landowner Sir Basil Dixwell, the builder of Broome Park.
The deal, made possible by a massive Lottery grant, brings the sought-after treasure home not only to England for the first time since the 1960s, but to Kent.
Previously owned by a private American collector, the work went on sale for £1.2m, but the city council bartered the international dealer down to a final price tag of £950,000.
The council met just £35,000 of the cost from its dedicated museum purchase fund, after grants of £825,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £80,000 from the National Art Collections Fund were awarded specifically for this painting. The Friends of the Museums are still raising the remaining £10,000.
Van Dyck (1599-1641) began his career as principal assistant to his friend Rubens, and is widely accepted as one of the greatest painters of his time. The portrait is in particularly good condition.
Independent Gallery owner Neville Pundole said the piece would draw people to the Beaney Institute and to the city.
He said: "Canterbury is a jewel in east Kent and a purchase like this can only help draw people with artistic taste to the city.
"The painting adds to Canterbury as a city of culture, and will bring people into the Beaney who are interested in art and in history.
"They must have put forward a very strong case to bring the money to Canterbury."
A council spokeswoman refused to discuss tightened-up security measures and would not be drawn on the cost it would add to the museum's insurance premium.
She said: "On the security side we have taken a range of measures and because of these we don't need barriers, which could detract from being able to see the picture well.
"The museum has a range of valuable items, the painting is one more of those, and our insurance is reviewed annually."
The city council is working on plans with Kent County Council to enhance the Beaney Institute and increase the gallery's capacity to display pictures.
Council leader Alex Perkins said: "This acquisition marks the start of a development which will benefit contemporary artists, schoolchildren and the wider public.
"I am especially delighted we have made the purchase without local taxpayers having to pay towards it from council tax."
KM-fm's Jamie Stephens has more...
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