Published: 13/11/2008 00:00 - Updated: 24/11/2011 15:41

Portrait too big for city gallery!

Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of the Baillie family is too big to fit through the doors at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of the Baillie family is too big to fit through the doors at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

PLANS to put a controversial multi-million pound painting on display in Inverness could be wrecked because it's too big to fit into the city's art gallery! Local politicians, led by MSP David Stewart, are desperate to bring the late 18th century portrait of the Baillie family, by Thomas Gainsborough, to Inverness as part of the Year of Homecoming celebrations next year. The painting is controversial because the Baillie family of Dochfour was involved in the slave trade, yet they contributed heavily to the development of the Highlands. A formal bid has been made to the Tate Gallery in London for a loan of the oil painting but its 9ftx7ft dimensions mean it may not safely pass through the doors of Inverness Art Gallery and Museum. Curator Catherine Niven explained: "It would be amazing to bring the painting here but we will have to make some alterations to our doors if the Tate accepts the bid. "It will be an awkward fit, the painting would have to pass through the doors diagonally and we don't know what size of crate it would be packed in, so that would make things more difficult." Mr Stewart raised the issue at Question Time in the Scottish Parliament and has support from tourism minister Jim Mather, as well as Highland Council convener Sandy Park, Inverness Provost Jimmy Gray and Highland councillor and historian David Alston. Mr Stewart believes the painting could provide an artistic focal point to the homecoming celebrations. He said: "The painting is controversial because the Baillie family were involved in the slave trade. When this was abolished in 1860 they received substantial sums of money from the Government in compensation. This was used to develop the Highlands through establishments like Inverness Royal Academy and the Royal Northern Infirmary. "However, history should be seen warts and all, it's important that people know what it is. The Baillies played a big part in the development of the Highlands. "It's a bit like the Highland Clearances, they are an appalling part of Highland history but people should know about it. Schools could make the painting a research project." Mr Stewart said there would a small cost to the public to provide security for such a valuable work of art but it would be worth it. He added: "If we got the painting on loan this would provide a huge boost to tourism in the Highlands and Islands and attract inward investment. It would be like when Caley Thistle signed Marius Niculae." Lord Burton, head of today's Baillie family, said: "I don't mind if the painting comes here but it's up to the Tate. "It will have to be heavily insured and I wonder if they will be able to get it through the doors of the art gallery." The painting, a rare group portrait by Gainsborough which shows the Baillie Family circa 1784, was bequeathed to the nation by Alexander Baillie in 1868. It shows the merchant James Baillie (1737-1793), with his wife Colin Campbell, and their four young children. Baillie's wife had been given the Christian name of her father Colin Campbell of Glenure. The Tate is expected to make a decision on the proposed loan within the next month. A spokeswoman for the gallery told the Highland News: "I can confirm that Tate has received a loan request from Inverness Museum and Art Gallery for The Baillie Family circa 1784. "Following standard procedures the request will be considered by Tate and the borrower will be notified in due course."

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