Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Council drops art sell-off plans to fund Titanic museum

After the Race, oil on canvas, by Alfred Munnings (1878  1959). Copyright Tate, 2009
Sir Alfred Munnings' After the Race was due to be sold (Copyright: Tate)

Controversial plans to sell off art work in order to raise £5m to help fund a new Titanic museum have been dropped.

Southampton City Council had planned to sell work by French sculptor Auguste Rodin and British painter Sir Alfred Munnings.

The heritage museum, planned to open in 2012 for the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated voyage, will form part of a new cultural quarter in the city.

The council hopes to raise funds by selling land and forming partnerships.

When the plans were first announced they attracted criticism from culture-goers who staged a protest and handed over a petition.

Lottery fund

Councillor Royston Smith told BBC News that original plans to sell the art were in the "public interest" so the heritage centre and cultural quarter could be developed.

The council also said an extension to the art gallery would open up more space for hundreds of pieces currently stored in its vaults.

"We didn't have overwhelming support so we have had to re-look at it and rethink our plans," he said.

"The selling of the art work was always the last resort... because we needed to do it, we had a time-scale of the 2012 commemoration coming up."

Southampton Save our Collection Group outside Southampton's civic centre
Campaigners held a protest outside the city's civic centre

The local authority planned to put the cash made from the sale of the art towards creating a £15m heritage centre.

It also looked at a £4.5m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant for the centre, which would house the new Titanic museum.

Councillor Smith added the new cultural quarter development could create up to 2,000 jobs.

"We needed to find a way to fill that hole and of course the art we felt was one way of doing that," he added.

"Just selling two pieces of art, however significant they are, open all of that art and culture to a much bigger audience."

Susan Mullen, from campaign group Save our Collection, said the gallery was of national importance.

"We are utterly delighted and completely vindicated," she added.

"It belongs to the people of Southampton, it's their heritage. It represents the growth of Southampton over the years."

The Southampton art collection, valued at £180m, is considered the fourth most significant outside London, Birmingham and Manchester.

It boasts works by Turner, Lowry, Monet and Angel of the North creator Antony Gormley.

The Titanic set sail from the city on its ill-fated maiden voyage to New York in 1912.

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