Art auction: National galleries scramble to keep Titians as duke cashes in

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"I was staggered when I saw the works ... A new sense came upon me, a new heaven and a new Earth stood before me." So wrote William Hazlitt in 1798 when he saw the collection of old master paintings bought in France by the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater.

Among them were two Titian masterpieces whose net worth 210 years on may now reach £300m - which would make them easily the most valuable paintings ever sold. Yesterday the national galleries in London and Scotland announced they are uniting in an attempt to buy them for the nation.

The artist Lucian Freud described them as the most beautiful pictures in the world. Remarkably, they have been on public display almost since Hazlitt first saw them, for more than a century in London and since 1945 on loan at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. But now their current owner, the 7th Duke of Sutherland, has announced he wants to sell them...

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