Thinking Anglicans

Auckland Castle and the Zurbaran paintings

Updated again Wednesday morning

The Church Times reports today: Paintings at risk as Bishop Auckland deal falters

CHURCH officials are working des­perately to revive a £15-million deal to safeguard the future of the 12 Zur­barán paintings at Auckland Castle, Co. Durham.

Jonathan Ruffer, who offered to pay £15 million to the Church Commissioners to keep the paintings in the north-east (News, 1 April), an­nounced last week that he was withdrawing his offer.

Mr Ruffer, an investment manager in the City of London, who grew up in Stokesley, near Middlesbrough, blamed “insurmountable” conditions that had been placed on the deal by the Church Commissioners.

Writing in the Church Times, Mr Ruffer describes the First Church Es­tates Commissioner, Andreas Whit­tam Smith, and the Commissioners’ Secretary, Andrew Brown, as “decent men who have gone wrong”.

The Church Commissioners have declined to comment in detail on Mr Ruffer’s charges. However, in a letter to Mr Ruffer, sent on Wednesday and seen by the Church Times, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, writes: “We all hope that the matter is not irretrievable, and that we can press on as planned. . .

“I believe all are committed to achieve the end result that is desired, and I know the Church Commis­sioners are continuing to work to resolve the outstanding issues. They cannot, however, wave a ‘magic wand’ and bring it all together.”

And scroll down for a sidebar which provides a detailed chronology of how this saga developed.

The full text of Mr Ruffer’s article is, unfortunately, not available this week, except to Church Times subscribers. I will link it here when it is available.
The full text of the article by Jonathan Ruffer is now available here: Why I pulled out of Zurbarán deal.

However, you can get some further idea of its content from another report:

Northern Echo Chris Lloyd Financier says Church commissioners ‘torpedoed’ Zurbarans deal

But today, the Church Times – the leading weekly Anglican magazine – carries a remarkable article by Mr Ruffer in which he says the two leading commissioners, Andreas Whittam Smith and Andrew Brown, are “decent men who have gone wrong” who have “torpedoed” the deals for the Zurbarans and the castle and so have delivered “two slaps in the face for County Durham”.

He says: “Andreas Whittam Smith is by nature a buccaneer: quick to offer the hand of friendship, decisive and brave. He generously accepted an apology for a remark I made which had hurt him.

“Andrew Brown is a very different character, the antithesis of the smutty joke: he is wholesome, serious, and dutiful.

He would make an excellent minor royal.

“Yet these men have managed to torpedo two deals, to the detriment of one of the neediest regions of the UK.

Mr Ruffer paints a colourful picture of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, becoming involved in the debate. He writes: “I witnessed last month the Primate of All England pleading for the future of the castle.

The Archbishop pleading; Andreas untouchable, untouched.”

Update In the Guardian Riazat Butt writes Would-be saviour of £15 million paintings hits back at Church Commissioners.

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Grandmère Mimi
12 years ago

I’m thankful that I made a point to visit Auckland Castle last July when I was in England. That may have been my only opportunity to see the Zurbarans all together in the long dining room at the castle. They are stunning in their perfect setting.

I hope negotiations succeed, and the paintings remain in place.

12 years ago

Oh dear.

Richard Ashby
Richard Ashby
12 years ago

One of the points made by Mr Ruffer in his Church Times article is that the Church Commissioners made the deal dependent on ‘…the grant of planning consent for a mixed use but largely residential scheme on agricultural land owned by the Commissioners nearby’. The implication of this is that the Commissioners hope to get planning permission and would then sell off part of the park(?) for housing at a vastly inflated price. Isn’t this rampant capitalism of the worst sort that has blighted our towns and cities. Do ethics, and indeed common decency come into it at all? And… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

God and Mammon are rarely compatible bedfellows.

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