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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Art treasures to stay in UK
Gold lizard set with opals and rubies
This 16th Century Italian gold pendant is a star piece
English Heritage has stepped in with a loan to prevent a priceless private collection of art and jewellery from being lent abroad.

The collection, named after its founder Sir Julius Wernher, has been loaned to English Heritage for 125 years and will be housed in Ranger's House, Blackheath in south London.

A portrait of Lady Alice Wernher from the collection
Sir Julius used his wealth to acquire a society wife - Lady Alice
Arts Minister Baroness Blackstone praised English Heritage and the Wernher collection for keeping the collection in Britain.

"I am delighted that English Heritage and the Wernher Foundation have found a way of enabling the public to enjoy this outstanding collection," she said.

"Visitors will again be able to see the broad range of magnificent items bought by one of the leading collectors of the late 19th Century."

Sir Julius was a German diamond speculator who made a fortune in South Africa in the 1870s before settling in England.

The collection's trustees, among them Sir Julius's great-grandson Charles Butter, had difficulties finding a home for them in the UK.

Sir Julius Wernher
Born in Germany, Sir Julius came to Britain in 1871
"In this country it is very difficult to give anything away and in this case lending it - it would have been far easier to have let the collection to a foreign institution," said Butter.

The Wernher foundation will pay 1.5m toward the 2m cost of showing the works to the public from early next year.

English Heritage are committed to displaying the collection, which includes paintings by Filippino Lippi and Reynolds as well as renaissance jewellery encrusted with opals and diamonds, in the "quirky" way its founder intended.

English Heritage described the "original mixture of masterpieces, fakes and replicas and the over-restored" that makes the collection unique.

"As well as attracting traditional audiences across Europe, we are exploring ways of telling the Wernher story to new audiences," said English Heritage chairman Sir Neil Cossons.

Ranger's House
The collection will be displayed at Ranger's House in south London
Sir Julius was the son of a railway engineer who made good when his diamond operation merged with what is now De Beers, the precious stones giant.

He used his wealth to acquire the Bedfordshire mansion of Luton Hoo, seen in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Despite his enthusiastic art purchasing, when he died in 1912 his will was said to be one of the biggest ever recorded at Somerset House.

Luton Hoo was open to the public from 1950 till 1997, but is now being developed as a luxury hotel..

When Sir Julius' great-grandson Nicholas Phillips died in 1991, he left debts which left the future of the collection in doubt.

Last year an auction of other items from the collection, including a Titian and a Reubens, were auctioned for more than 20m at Christies in London.

See also:

25 Jul 01 | Arts
$40m art sale for charity
21 Dec 00 | Europe
Berlin art trove comes home
30 Oct 00 | UK
What is heritage?
28 May 99 | Entertainment
Tate and V&A share their art
30 Mar 00 | Europe
Roman erotica for public view
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