Social Philosophy

Legal and Ethical Title: the selling off of art from historical English country house collections

Dr David Bellingham
4th October 2017, 7:00pm

This lecture explores the ethical question: does the owner of an historical house art collection have an absolute right to sell them? Or do such works form part of a broader national heritage which has equivalent rights over the ‘ethical title’ of the works? Two country house case studies will be employed to illustrate the tensions between the ethical and legal standpoints and arguments involved in the resolution of these heritage issues: Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, property of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Syon House, Middlesex, property of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.


Both family houses and their art collections have suffered because of the imposition of government laws of inheritance tax, which have led to some works being transferred to national public museums and galleries while others have been sold to private collectors, often resulting in their export from the United Kingdom. Both families have obtained government tax exemptions by opening their houses, gardens and art collections to the public.


The lecture briefly examines the history of both art collections and their rise to national importance, the partial dispersal of the collections resulting from inheritance taxation, the ethical and legal arguments and resolutions behind the blocking of such dispersals and the contemporary problems facing the retention of such heritage collections.


About the Speaker

Dr David Bellingham is an art historian, author and Programme Director for the Masters Degree in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London where he lectures on the Antiquities and Old Masters Art Markets, and on Ethics, Law and the Art Trade. He holds a special honours degree in Latin and Classical Archaeology (University of Birmingham), and a doctorate from the University of Manchester for his thesis on the cultural and socio-economic aspects of sympotic scenes in ancient Roman wall-painting.


Dr Bellingham has published on a variety of subjects, including art business ethics, the art market for classical antiquities, the paintings of Sandro Botticelli and authenticity issues in the paintings of Frans Hals. He has addressed the Lit & Phil twice before and is currently writing a book on ethics and the art world.


Menu for Supper

Steamed salmon with a white wine sauce with new potatoes and vegetables
Stuffed peppers with tomato sauce (v)
New York cheese cake with raspberry coulis
Fresh fruit salad

N.B. the Lit & Phil office have to inform venues of catering numbers approximately 7 days before an event so please make sure you book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.