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The Art Fund, the country’s leading art charity, only launched the three-prong campaign two weeks ago as part of their centenary celebrations.

The call came as an anonymous donor stepped in at the eleventh hour to offer £10m plus to help the National Gallery secure Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Omai, regarded by some as the finest British portrait painted. A similar campaign to raise £29.5m to keep Raphael’s The Madonna of the Pinks at the National Gallery has, so far, proved unsuccessful.

Tax relief is likely to increase the number of works handed over to institutions, because owners would not have to sell them to raise cash for tax bills in the way they do now.

This, in turn, should reduce the number of important works being exported. Art Fund director David Barrie said: “It’s very encouraging that the Chancellor, in his Budget statement, recognised the vital importance of enabling museums to go on enriching their collections. We have recently put to the Treasury the case for extending Gift Aid to donations of works of art and other culturally significant objects to museums and galleries – large and small. We’re delighted that the Chancellor is now prepared to look into this.”

But the Art Fund are still working on the other two prongs of their campaign to help the nation retain important works. Those prongs are:

• To establish a system that would identify the most significant items at risk at the earliest opportunity, thereby reducing the eleventh-hour rescue campaigns that are becoming all too familiar; and

• To restore the annual government funding of the National Heritage Memorial Fund – the fund of last resort – to its pre-Lottery level of £12m, to give the system backbone and justify its existence.