The campaign, which backs the Fitzwilliam Museum's public appeal to acquire Extreme Unction (c.1638-40), has a target of just under £4m, a fraction of its agreed value of £14m, because of a deal negotiated by its current owners, the 11th Duke of Rutland's 2000 Settlement, through the acceptance-in-lieu scheme to offset inheritance tax.
The painting is part of a series of seven works by Poussin based on the sacraments, which is no longer complete: one, Penance, was destroyed by fire in 1816; Baptism was sold around 1939 and is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington and Ordination was sold in 2011 to the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas after failing to sell at Christie's in December 2010 against a £15m-20m estimate.
"One of the surviving Seven Sacraments painted in Rome for the renowned scholar and connoisseur Cassiano dal Pozzo, Extreme Unction ('Final Anointing') has long been considered by critics to be the finest work from one of the most remarkable series of paintings ever conceived," said an Art Fund spokesman. "The painting is of critical importance to the study of western art."
Meanwhile, Dr Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, said: "This would be the most significant Old Master painting acquired by the museum in nearly a century and would transform our representation of French art and of the classical tradition through a masterpiece by the greatest French painter of the 17th century."
Nearly 10% of the £3.9m required has already been pledged, and the Fitzwilliam has until early November to raise the rest.
Extreme Unction is currently on display in Gallery 3 at the Fitzwilliam Museum for all to see. Admission to the museum is free.
- Organisations considering making a donation should contact development officer Sue Rhodes at the museum directly on 01223 332939; individuals can send a contribution in the form of a cheque made payable to the 'Fitzwilliam Museum Development Trust' to: The Development Office, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RB, or give online at www.artfund.org/poussin