It has just been officially announced that Basildon Park was recently allocated a group of objects accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax. The Acceptance in Lieu scheme enables the Government to receive pre-eminent heritage objects in lieu of tax and to hand them on to museum bodies.
Large numbers of works of art and other objects which had been on loan have been transferred to the National Trust’s ownership in this way over the years. The market value of ‘in lieu’ allocations to the National Trust during the last dozen years alone approaches £30 million. Apart from their very real financial value, these objects also play a crucial role in maintaining the spirit of place of the historic houses with which they are associated, and as such they can now be enjoyed by the public in perpetuity.
The allocation to Basildon includes a painting by French artist Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) which has been described as an outstanding example of her work. Vallayer-Coster was a prodigy who was elected as a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture at the age of twenty-six, one of only three women to receive that honour in pre-Revolutionary France.
In some ways Vallayer-Coster was constrained by the conventions of her time, avoiding the ‘male’ genre of history painting and focusing mainly on still-lives, depictions of flowers and portraiture. Nevertheless she was professionally very successful, being widely collected in French aristocratic and royal circles.
It is interesting that the few works by her in British public collections seem to have been originally acquired in the late 19th and early-to-mid-20th century, perhaps indicating the renewal of interest in ancien régime art at that time. This interest was recently deepened through the major exhibition devoted to Vallayer-Coster which toured several American museums in 2002.