Art treasures may be sold to fund 'Titanic' museum (UK)

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Trotting along a deserted beach; leading out a pack of hounds in a winter landscape; or locked together in the heat of the race; the elegant horses in Sir Alfred Munnings' renowned paintings speak of a quieter, more traditional Britain.

They are also, figuratively speaking, about to gallop headlong into a row that is engulfing Britain's art elite – including the chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, Charles Saumarez Smith, and the chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the former poet laureate Andrew Motion.

Southampton City Council, which holds one of the finest art collections outside London, is planning to sell Munnings's 1937 work After the Race – which is valued at around £4m – as well as Eve by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, which is worth about £1.5m, to help fund a museum dedicated to the Titanic, which will include a walk-around replica of the doomed ocean liner.

The plan has caused consternation in the art world, where strict rules apply over the sale of publicly owned works of art.

Critics fear that if the MLA, which polices Britain's public galleries, allows the sale it will set a precedent for local authorities up and down the country to ransack their collections.

There is also disbelief that the work – Munnings is considered one of the greatest painters of horses – will be sold to pay for a themed visitor attraction. Some critics argue that, as the Titanic sailed from Southampton only once, the city has a tenuous connection with the ship...

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